Susan Converse is shown with her granddaughter, Ivy Sinn, age 11. This was taken on the first day of school for both of them. She was in kindergarten in the photo and this was Susan’s first day back in the classroom in 2013. Ivy is Mike and Amelia Sinn’s daughter and Amelia is a fifth-grade teacher at Cassens Elementary.

This is a photo taken of Susan Converse, her assistant Anne Caton, her students and Mark Bradley, who owns Mark’s Appliance in Edwardsville He was making a donation to the Tiger Den, as the Tiger Den adopted a family last Christmas and bought Christmas presents for them.Susan Converse is pictured with Caleb Byrd, one of her students, counting money together in the Tiger Den.

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EDWARDSVILLE - Edwardsville High School’s Susan Converse spent Mother’s Day thinking not only about her own children, but her students at EHS involved in her different programs.

“I am a Functional Life Skills teacher (FLS) and I work with students with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities and I am in charge of the transition part of getting students ready to exit the school system,” Converse said. “I prepare them to concentrate on primary vocational training and also independent living skills.”

One of Converse's key roles is to manage the FLS students and other volunteers in The Tiger Den at EHS. In the Tiger Den, the FLS students sell smoothies, lattes, hot chocolate, cappuccinos, hot tea and special cookies to the EHS students.

“We opened up a small coffee shop in the high school completely staffed and run by students with significant disabilities,” Converse said. “We work the consumer service part work of the counter, cash register and take the orders. Some of the students work one on one with the customers who come up. The other half of the students work in the prep areas where they make all the products we sell smoothies sell frappes base from scratch prepare all the ingredients for all of our items.

“The students are responsible for rotating the stock and keeping inventory. The students also sanitize our work areas. We are training the same way an individual would train in a restaurant to be hygienic and be safe food handler. We work on social skills, interacting with the public. A lot of students have language disabilities or are shy. Therapists work with them to greet a customer appropriately. The program has partnered with clubs and school health occupations students who volunteer to work with us first three hours of the day.”

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Recently, Converse’s kids donated a significant amount to clubs for helping work in the cafe.

“We partner with clubs to make regular donations to individuals and families in some sort of need,” she said. “We donated to the Karen Masinelli family swing project and had a family that had a fire in the house and donated to them. All the money made from the program goes back in to provide supplies and equipment.”

In 2013, the group had three coffee pots and now because of the students’ hard work, there is commercial equipment in the prep area and cafe.

“These kids have made an incredible amount of progress,” Converse said. “Several have already gone on and graduated and are working. I am a mother figure and I look at these kids as a mother does. I want them to be the best adults they can be and push them and set expectations for them. We make adjustments and have high hopes and goals for these kids. They are just like a second family. I have three children. One of our daughters died in a car accident at age 9. My two living children are Michael Sinn, 39, and my daughter is Jennifer Eurick, 35.”

Converse has been employed in the district since 1995. She spent nine years in the Central Office and has spent the rest of the time in the classroom. She described her job today is “a dream come true.”

On Mother’s Day, she said she did reflect not only on her own children, but the ones she works within the FLA program.

“I will be celebrating in my heart thinking of all my students and my own children,” she said prior to Mother's Day. “My advice to other mothers is: Enjoy every minute you have with our child and appreciate it. Encourage them to reach for the stars and they will all achieve more than you would expect.”

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