Imagine graduating from high school but then coming back… every single day. This is an idea most would oppose, but 20 students defy the norm at Antioch Community High School.
After accomplishing the high school graduation requirements, these students do indeed graduate, but they don’t receive their diplomas. Instead, they continue learning and experiencing work in a school setting. This setting is called a transition program, and it is led by staff members Jenna Ludden and Andrew Seketa.
The program is intended to develop young adults and prepare them for future stumbling blocks life may offer. For example, the students fill out job applications, simulate job interviews, make grocery lists, practice depositing checks and work on improving awareness of social cues, among other things.
If practicing skills was all the transition program did, it would still be unique and impactful in itself; however, possibly the most remarkable thing about the transition program is the work experience it provides. The students have the ability to choose a general field of work and are then placed by sponsors into a business in the community. There, they work for two hours every day and are observed by either a job coach or a manager. Their observer grades them based on their progress with skills like productivity, accuracy and relationships with co-workers.
There is open communication between the people in the community that allow students to come and work in their businesses and the administrators at school.
“We check in with the managers frequently on how the student is doing there,” Ludden said.
The students don’t get paid for their work, but their work can be compared to an internship or work-study.
“I, in college, took jobs that I didn’t get paid for because I wanted to put them on my resumé,” Seketa said. “So that when you leave here, you have a resume to say, ‘I worked here, I had these responsibilities’ and then you have past experience and are desirable.”
Although the students don’t get paid in money, they are paid in experience. What is exceptional about the job sites is that some companies and businesses offer continuing jobs, or full employment for the same work, even though the transition program is only available to adults between the ages of 18 and 21.
“It’s age driven according to state laws,” Ludden said “Some students, depending on what their needs are, might only be here for a semester. Some students might be here for a year. Some students might be here for four years. Some students may need to be here longer, but they turn 22 and they can no longer be here.”
ACHS graduate Kami Zbiral, almost 19 years old, is a member of the transition program and loves it. Since the program is run by the district but housed at ACHS, previous Lakes Community High School students combine with former ACHS students. Because of this, Zbiral has had the opportunity to meet new people when participating at school and at work sites.
Furthermore, the program has experienced massive growth over the last three years, so much so that there are two classes instead of one this year. The two classes are split almost evenly, as one class has nine students and the other has 11. One group goes off to their separate jobs in the morning for two hours, while the other group is at school learning and practicing life skills. They overlap late in the morning, and then switch shifts at around noon.
“[The most fun part about transition is] how to learn about stuff, like how to do job applications,” Zbiral said. “I [also] have fun going on trips.”
Though some of the students work at grocery stores, the program goes on field trips to grocery stores like Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, and other places like the bank to apply the skills that they practice in the classroom.
After the students turn 22, they receive their diploma, stretch their wings and fly. Zbiral hopes to continue working at her current job site, or somewhere similar to it after she graduates out of the transition program.
The transition program goes largely unnoticed in the community, but the impact it has on the lives of individuals in the community does not. All with the end goal of living on their own someday, students practice skills in hopes of making helping around the house easier, being employable and getting and keeping a job within the community. Many aren’t aware that this transition program helps young adults ease into their adult life and provides adults with experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise. In case you missed it, transition programs change lives.