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Spotlight Staff: Danielle Kelly, Life Skills Instructor Extraordinaire!

Headshot of Danielle Kelly, wearing a pink collared shirt under a black jacket; she poses against a black background.

Berkshire Hills Music Academy is fortunate to attract and employ some of the brightest and most talented educators and professionals in the region. Our team facilitates instruction in various capacities, including Life Skills, Vocation, Music and Residential Life. This week's spotlight, Danielle Kelly, spoke with us about her 11 years as a Life Skills Instructor at BHMA.

Danielle's days at BHMA begin with supporting our students to rise and shine; she offers assistance with morning routines and activities of daily living- helping with hygiene, grooming, outfit selection, and breakfast preparation. Danielle is often found in morning yoga classes alongside students who require extra help with maintaining focus or challenging poses. She is also our chief Money Management instructor. Managing finances and exercising responsible spending is an area of weakness for many young adults with (and without) disabilities. Danielle has built a highly effective system for budgeting, banking, shopping, and saving, through practical application. Here's what she had to say...

Image of Danielle Kelly, wearing a pink scarf and black jacket, assisting student Emma as she starts to pay for her purchase at the grocery store.

1.) What would you define as the overall goal(s) of Money Management for BHMA students?  "My goal in teaching Money Management is to help my students understand how to use money in their everyday life.  I break down budgeting to a manageable, one-week process.  I want our students to feel they have total choice over how they spend their money, but without the possibility for major financial fall-out.  On our weekly outings to the bank and the grocery store, we incorporate community independence practice, use of the public bus, and we practice social skills in the community."   2.) What are the primary outcomes of the class?  "Students come out of this class understanding that they have choices about how they spend their money, but that money is finite.  They learn to budget their money into categories, prioritize needs over wants, and create a long-term savings goal.  They are skilled at making transactions with a teller and tracking their transactions in a register.  I use assistive technology to individualize the curriculum for each student.  Some students use checklists on their phones to inventory their personal care items, some have pictures of healthy snack choices they use as prompts when making their shopping lists.  Some students who are unable to verbally communicate with the bank tellers use cards with written communication.  All the students use Pictello on their personal devices, for prompting through the entire process, both in the classroom and at the bank, which gives them the potential of being entirely independent and completing their routine with no prompting from the teacher."  

Danielle Kelly, wearing a pink scarf and black jacket, looks on as student Carly uses the PeoplesBank ATM.

3.) What is your favorite part of your work?  "I love watching our students try new things and find success. I have the opportunity, as their teacher, to watch them accomplish things they never knew they were capable of. I am constantly inspired by our students' perserverance.  They try new, hard things every day.  Even if they've been unsuccessful in the past, they are willing to give it another try.  This bravery and tenacity is so inspiring."   4.) What do you love about teaching young adults with disabilities?  "I love getting to know each individual and the challenge of figuring how they learn and what motivates them.  As their teacher, I can take that and use it to determine what methods will work best for that particular person to become as independent as they are capable of being."  With over a decade of experience teaching at BHMA, Danielle's knowledge and skill set is broad. She's incredibly thoughtful and methodical when considering best practices for accessing each of our young adults as individuals. Her dedication to the person-centered approach and her innate abilities and passion for teaching, make her an enormous asset to the BHMA community. Thank you for your work, Danielle!


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