- Michael D. Clark Staff Writer
For many special needs students, graduating from Lakota Schools isn’t the end thanks to a real-life, post-graduate program that puts them in jobs and on the road to independence.
Teens and young adults up to 22 years old use Lakota’s Transition To Work program to join the work world through learning skills in part-time jobs arranged by the schools with area businesses.
But it’s the impact of what can’t be seen, said Lakota Transition Coordinator Donna Haury, that is the richest result of the program that currently enrolls 110 special needs students in the Butler County school system.
“The biggest advantage of the program is the confidence the students are able to build with their self-esteem,” said Haury. “You get to see them just blossom, grow and develop.”
“That’s our goal: To help them develop to the best of their ability,” she said of the participating students ranging in age from 14 to 22.
Andrea Longworth, Lakota’s executive director of special education for grades 7-12, said “the work study (transition) program is a related service that helps students with special needs develop employability skills for competitive employment after graduation.”
Noah Rathnow recently stood outside a Procter & Gamble (P&G) research facility in West Chester Township where he works part-time. He smiled when talking about what the school program has meant to him.
“When I first started here I was nervous and shy and now I’m more outgoing,” said the 18-year-old who graduated from Lakota in the spring through his individualized education plan (IEP) of study.
“The program has helped me build a lot of skills I’ll need for the future and it helps me experience new things,” said Rathnow.
Robin Rathnow, Noah’s mother, credited the program for “pushing him toward his fullest potential.”
“He has gotten so much self-confidence and the program has shown him the skills and knowledge to compete out there in the workforce,” said Rathnow.
Fellow Lakota graduate Jewell Pressley, who also works at that P&G facility as well as part-time at Lakota’s Central Office, echoed Rathnow saying the transition program “really means a lot to me.”
“If you are looking for a different route this is wonderful experience,” said Pressley.
Her mother – Domonique Broomfield – credits the program with “single-handedly giving her a boost in confidence and skill sets.”
“The program is phenomenal and it’s her first working opportunity and has given her a great outlook,” said Broomfield.
There are currently 50 transition students working part-time at area businesses and another 30 working outside the Lakota district, said Haury.
“It’s a win-win and especially a win for the employers. They make very good employees because they want to work, they are consistent and they have good attendance and they have a work ethic that makes them feel valued,” she said.
Lakota school parents of special-needs students interested in the Transition To Work program should contact IEP case managers at their child’s school.