Transition Academy creates community for students

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Transition Academy creates community for students
Transition academy students, teachers and paraeducators pose in front of Good Shepherd buildingThe Transition Academy is a program for post-secondary students with disabilities with the goal of providing more education and career-building opportunities after high school. This three-year program is for students ages 18-21.

The program was founded by Roberta Dee in 1991. The Dee House, purchased and maintained by grants, is one of several sites the academy uses during the school day.

Transition Academy teacher Julia Calhoon says she loves working with students on developing real-world skills. The program focuses on “functional academics;” skills that students can use in jobs and community involvement. Students volunteer in the community, practice household management at the Dee House and learn skills such as writing resumes. “Our students come to us with a wide range of support needs and skills, but all of them have the shared goal of increasing independence. It's amazing to see the amount of growth our students achieve while in our program, not only in their skills and independence, but also in maturity and self-confidence,” Calhoon says.

The success of the program shows in the smiles of the students and the tight-knit community it has created. Transition Academy student Lauren Pruett praises her teachers, saying, “They are always there to help you when you are confused, or not sure about something. They are like a practice boss. The staff members and students are all really sweet.” Student Rasmhi Santi says of the program: “It’s amazing. I like meeting new friends, meeting new staff. It’s a great school. The teachers are thoughtful and kind.”

The mission of the Transition Academy is to assist students as they prepare for the transition to their adult lives. “We are less concerned with a specific job such as being a secretary or doing job entry. We are more interested in the soft skills, such as following directions or what to do when you need help. We call those soft skills,” Transition Academy Teacher Jesse Davis says.

For Davis, one of the things he enjoys most is helping students to explore their interests and passions. One of his students was fascinated with culinary arts and wanted to find a way to travel to Seattle to visit family, as well as tour a few restaurants. With encouragement and development of independent skills at the Transition Academy, she was able to achieve that goal. Other students have had the chance to find and develop hobbies, such as volunteering at the Olympia Film Society. Yet another student found her niche at an insurance agency. “She is very outgoing and delightful; an ‘up’ personality. Her personality adds to the environment,” Davis says.

At age 21, students become eligible for many services such as a job coach and discounts for housing. The Transition Academy bridges the gap between high school and that eligibility, culminating in a graduation ceremony.

On weekday mornings, students work on skills such as interviewing and creating resumes, as well as visiting work sites. One of the Transition Academy’s partnerships is with the Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation. Students also work in senior living centers, learning how to set tables and prepare the dining room. Davis and Calhoon act as job coaches for many settings. “The goal is that the job coaches gradually pull back and the students rely more on the supervisors at the work sites,” Davis says.

The afternoons of the Transition Academy are for Community Access; the opportunity for students to split into groups and plan outings in the community. Students attend the library, YMCA and other activities. “Our students are preparing for adult life,” Davis says. One day a week, students also are involved in an Independent Living Group. They participate in cooking and chores at the Dee House. Students take turns with meal planning, chores and cooking. Davis began teaching about seven years ago. When he began teaching at the Transition Academy, there were about 10 students. Now there are close to 25 students in the program.

At the beginning of this school year, Davis created another program: the OSD Transition Club. He recognized the value of the parents of students having the opportunity to network. Many of the parents have the same questions, such as understanding how their student will travel safely and work with a job coach successfully. The program also allows current and graduated Transition Academy students to stay connected. He hopes to build many of the activities around events already in the community, such as Olympia High School’s Walk for Inclusion or the Procession of the Species through the City of Olympia. “Our goal is to create a program that is self-sustainable,” Davis says.

For upcoming OSD Transition Club activities, visit the Transition Program Facebook page or contact Davis at jbdavis@osd.wednet.edu.