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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Transition programs offer post-graduation life skills

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

June is a special time of year for all graduates, and that includes the students graduating from Spokane Public Schools’ Secondary Transition Program for students with intellectual disabilities.

The Transition program includes three separate programs that are designed to provide services to students age 19-21 who have intellectual disabilities. The goal is to help the student successfully transition into a more independent life and paid employment.

The idea is to provide help with the transition from a school environment “so parents aren’t feeling like they tipped over a cliff,” said Special Education Department program director Angela Johnstone. “We’re partnering with students, the parent and the community.”

The Transition programs offer services for two years after high school. Admission into a Transition program is not automatic and not all special education students need the additional services the program offers, Johnstone said. “There’s just a few that need more,” she said. “Students apply and they interview. There’s a process that we put into place.”

Though the goal of all the programs is roughly the same, they offer different paths. All three programs, however, offer unpaid internships as a way to gain job skills and build a resume. Students can switch from one program to another during their two years.

The first of the three programs, IMAGES, was launched in 1995. School districts are required to provide services to special education students until they turn 21 and prior to 1995 that was done in each high school. Project SEARCH, a one-year internship, was added in 1996. The Secondary Transition Education Program (STEP) was added in 2012 for students who require more intensive support.

The IMAGES program is on the Spokane Falls Community College campus and gives students a taste of college life, Johnstone said. Students take adult basic education classes that include time management and bookkeeping. Each student has an unpaid internship for a limited number of hours a week.

Students in the SEARCH program work unpaid internships at Providence Sacred Hearth Medical Center. They work in a variety of departments, include food services, the laundry and the warehouse.

“They work alongside hospital staff,” Johnstone said. “They don’t replace anyone. It’s an internship.”

STEP also helps students with community connections in addition to unpaid internships.

“It’s guided by the students,” Johnstone said. “We help students connect with the agencies they feel offer the services they need.”

STEP, which is open to only Spokane Public Schools students, has been very popular. This year there were 60 students in the three programs, and Johnstone said there are 78 enrolled for the next academic year. “We’re going to be very full,” she said.

There’s no guarantee that Transition program graduates will get a job, but staff members do everything they can to help prepare students for that, Johnstone said.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “We work very hard with our students and our families to take advantage of these final years to provide connections to the community.”