OCEANSIDE — Since moving to its new location in August, the Adult Transition Program in the Oceanside Unified School District has evolved to provide more life skills and workforce learning opportunities for its students.
The program was originally housed in the Ditmar Elementary building but moved to its own location on Carey Road at the beginning of the school year.
The program serves students between the ages of 18 and 22 with disabilities. Its purpose, according to Program Coordinator Grace Ridgeway, is to provide functional academics and work experience in order to help students become more independent and prepare them for life after school.
“We provide them with opportunities that they may not have access to as adults in the communities where they live,” Ridgeway said.
Those opportunities include belonging to a social group, having work experience, participating in academics through college or even doing household chores.
“Those opportunities we sometimes take for granted we bring them back to our program so that our students are exposed to it,” Ridgeway said. “Then we teach the social aspects by designing a behavior plan that supports students who may have behavioral needs.”
The program also looks at each student’s ability to participate.
The Adult Transition Program has a wide range of learners, Ridgeway said, some are cognitively and physically impaired while others are fairly independent already but did not meet the criteria for a diploma. As part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP), the program can work with students up until the age of 22 to help them reach the fullest extent of independent living.
Another major aspect of the program is community-based instruction, which is where that individualized learning plan once again comes into play. According to Monique Combs, the program’s lead teacher, everyone receives individualized support, even one-on-one time for some.
“They are all given the opportunity to participate in community-based instruction,” Combs said. “That includes safe community access like walking down the sidewalk and crossing the street, trip planning, accessing businesses, budgeting and money handling.”
Students who require less support practice getting and turning in job applications. Cooking classes are held in the program’s kitchen and in a mock studio apartment on site students can learn how to take care of the home.
“Things you don’t think you have to teach, we’re teaching them,” Ridgeway said.
Sometimes parents are surprised at what chores their children can do while at the program that they aren’t doing at home.
“I’ve literally taken a parent to the kitchen and told the student, ‘Show your mom how you wash dishes,’” Combs said.
The program also has partnerships with local retail stores and restaurants like Petco., Texas Roadhouse, Panera Bread and Privateer that brings students into the work force during their time in the program.
First-year student Marley Christianson likes working with animals at Petco as well as assisting customers. Her first day on the job, Christianson took extra time to help a woman find the specific cat food she needed.
Part of Christianson’s job is facing all of the products so that customers can read what products they can buy. The cat aisle is a specialty of hers.
“It’s like my aisle,” she said.
On campus, students will be able to practice shelf facing along with other tasks like rolling silverware, cleaning, setting up tables and other similar job skills.
Program leaders also want to expand the students’ exposure to small enterprises.
The program recently received a $500 grant from the National Foundation for Autism Research to fund a student-run snack cart that they will push to other nearby district offices and schools. This will give the students running the cart experience with taking and ordering inventory, orders, delivering food and socializing with staff.
The program is also working on putting together its own thrift store and food pantry for students to run and is currently accepting donations for the thrift store.
Some people seem to think that behind the students are teachers and instructors running everything, but the program strives to get the students as much hands-on experience and involvement as possible.
“The goal is to make them as independent, safe and happy as possible as adults,” Combs said.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son