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Community helps students transition from high school to real life

While the Class of 2020 has experienced more than its share of challenges and obstacles, there are a few graduates who have overcome even more to earn their diploma. For them, graduation may have never felt possible, if not for the help of The Bridge Transition program.

“Having this program in place is really comforting as a parent,” said Erin Mathaus, mother of a recent Transition graduate. “We may not go out having all the answers for her future, but what she’s gained from the experience you can’t put a price on that.”

Seven students will be graduating from Transition this year, a program that allows 18- to 21-year-old students with disabilities an extra opportunity to develop life and job skills and gain confidence. Transition helps teach students important skills and explore various post-secondary education and job opportunities. It also gives students a variety of experiences in the community through jobs and  service projects to discover what interests they have and determine what they might like to do in the future.

“One thing that makes Transition programming unique is its focus on teaching students how to live in and give back to their communities,” said Caitlyn Willis, Assistant Director of Student Support Services. “We teach students that the community is their classroom.”

Kaitlyn’s Journey to Graduation

Kaitlyn Mathaus entered the Transition program a little shy and reserved, and not at all certain of what she wanted to do in the future. Transition allowed her an opportunity to try many new things, both in the classroom and outside of it. 

“I learned what I didn’t want to do, that’s for sure,” Kaitlyn said. “When I came to the Transition program I was very scared to have any real interaction with people above me, per say. I’m so excited because now I’m doing something I wanted to do and I’m happy with the hard work I did to get to that.”

Kaitlyn worked at Culver's for three years while attending Transition and learned the various aspects and roles within the restaurant. On her three year work anniversary, she asked her manager if she could take on a new role with more responsibility. She is now a member of the management team and working as a Crew Trainer to help new staff members learn the ropes.

“Kaitlyn is a real success story,” said Karla Mclaughlin, a Transition teacher. “She has overcome so many personal little struggles and gained so much confidence. It makes me a little teary eyed, too, to see how far she’s come. We hope she’ll come back to visit and help motivate other Transition students.”

“Oh for sure,” Kaitlyn exclaimed. “I’d definitely want to come visit.” 

Karen’s Journey to Graduation

Karen Alfaro loves to draw, paint and arrange flowers. Someday, she says, she would like to run a small business and have her own place to create floral designs. She also has plans to get her driver’s license, go to Century College, earn a certificate to become a Spanish-language translator and work as a paraprofessional in the Stillwater school district. The 2020 Transition graduate has big dreams, and thanks to her time in the program, she has the skills and confidence to make them a reality.

“In Transition I’ve learned how to have patience, be responsible and ask for help,” Karen said. “My mom says I’m more independent from her in doing things,” she adds, as she translates for her mom from Spanish to English. “She says she is so thankful for everyone who has been there for me and for us.”

Through the Transition program, Karen has had the opportunity to experience a number of jobs within the community. She started out working at Wendy’s and then took a job at SuperAmerica. She also volunteers at Gillette Children’s Hospital, helping patients create artwork and various crafts. It was the experience working with kids that prompted her to ask her teachers if there might be an opportunity for her to work in the school district. Her teachers helped her search for jobs and access the online application. She now serves as an assistant in the Adventure Club before and after-school child care program and is hoping to get a job as a paraprofessional after graduation.

“Karen is a real leader,” Willis said. “She has an ability to self advocate for herself and go to the adults and people around her who she trusts, and she does that with grace and independence. She has better self advocacy skills than many adults I know. If she sets her mind to it, she can do anything.”

The Transition program will be recognizing its 2020 graduates with a virtual ceremony at the end of May.


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