Moving Out

Transition Program adds new addition, teaches special needs graduates life skills, job experience

For Jenny Callen ’17, a typical school day does not start off on the main Stevenson campus. Instead, for her and 17 of her peers, it begins by venturing just off-site to the District 125 Transition House — the newest addition to the Stevenson High School Transition Program.

The Transition House is the next step for Callen and other Stevenson graduates ages 18-22 with disabilities. With the goal of increasing each student’s independence upon graduating from the program, students go through an individualized curriculum consisting of vocational, social and life skills development.

“Every morning I wake up and I learn new things,” Callen said. “I love the house.”

The 2018-19 school year is significant for the Transition Program as it is the first year it will take place at an off-site facility after being housed at Stevenson for the past six years.

“Before the Transition House, they would typically just come back to school from their job where the transition room would just have a dishwasher and washing machine,” said Best Buddies co-Presidents Julia Ellis ’19 and Blake Gitler ’19. “But at the House, they can really transition to independent living, which is the goal of the program.”

Although the intention of the shift was to increase students’ independence, it has been met by a host of criticism from parents of certain Transition students. Many parents believe that the relocation of the Transition Program isolated the students further from the Stevenson community.

“For me, I overcame my skepticism because I want to truly be an advocate and make sure Jenny has what she needs,” Donna Callen, Jenny’s mom, said. “She misses the school spirit but since she likes the program, we’re taking it year by year and will stay with it if she keeps learning.” With transportation provided everyday, school begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. As part of the program, students spend half of the day learning basic life and vocational skills. Not only do students learn how to cook and clean, they also develop skill sets such as problem-solving and communication that can be utilized in any job.

Those lessons are then directly applied through real-world experience. Through the guidance of a vocational counselor who helps students gain employment, Transition House students can work anywhere from Mariano’s to assisted living facilities within the local community.

“I’ve definitely gotten more independent,” J. Callen said. “We talk, laugh, and share stories together so we call it the Transition family.”