Project TEACH at Cambridge State Hospital
Script compliments of Roger Anderson, employee at Cambridge State Hospital
During the 1950s, the majority of the residents at Cambridge State Hospital were individuals with developmental disabilities as well as individuals with severe physical disabilities rather than individuals with epilepsy. At the time, it was thought that an institution setting was the best option for them, and the population at Cambridge peaked at over 2000 residents in 1961.
Cottage 7 at Cambridge State Hospital was the housing for adolescent male residents with developmental disabilities. At that time, there were approximately four state hospital staff to supervise about 80-100 residents, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
One effect of the staffing shortage was the "Day Room" where residents spent a majority of their waking hours. There was no furniture, no equipment, and no supplies available, so many residents engaged in self-stimulating behaviors. The hospital also utilized "Quiet Rooms", for the seclusion of residents who were misbehaving.
At mealtimes, those that misbehaved by stealing food or causing other disturbances were seated against the wall, strapped into individual tables. Many of the Cottage 7 residents needed assistance when dining, so the hospital employed some of the more capable residents, which they called "Details," to assist. Details also helped with housekeeping as well as bathing and dressing less capable residents. They did receive minimal wages for doing all this.
In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the State Schools Act, provided states with direct grant assistance to help educate children with disabilities. Cambridge State Hospital used a Title I grant from these acts to introduce "Project TEACH" in 1967.
Finally, having the finances to supplement staffing, the program was developed to teach children self-help skills and increase their level of independence. Additional space within Cottage 7, that had at one time been used by staff as living quarters, was changed into "classroom" space and residents were brought here in small groups. This had not been possible before.
The residents of Cottage 7 worked on basic living skills, with everything from dressing and brushing teeth, to eating in a family style environment. They would gather apples from the state hospital orchard, and make their own applesauce to enjoy. The Day Room also improved, with furniture and toys, and they even had the fun of an occasional "popcorn party."
In addition to learning within the structure of the hospital, residents were also taken on various field trips within the town of Cambridge. A trip to Stratte Drug Store was filled with many new experiences. The Standard Filling Station was another source of fascination. As their dining skills improved, residents went to Arlington Restaurant for a meal and Dairy Queen for a treat. They even took a train ride from Cambridge to Braham to expand their horizons.
As the program progressed, more and more emphasis was placed on self-help skill training and language skills. The Project TEACH program ran several years, and expanded to other cottages where children of school age resided. This program helped supplement staff provided by the state so that more could be accomplished with the children.
By 1970, the resident population of Cambridge State Hospital was down to about 1100 individuals. Many individuals were able to leave the institution, going to either community group homes, or back to their families, with the skills necessary to function without constant assistance.