A day in the lives of students in Secondary Transition Experience Program is anything but ordinary thanks to the new STEP facility in the southwest portion of the building in .
“We’ve had parents tell us our new facility is beyond their wildest dreams,” said Erica Ekstrom, who serves as principal for the state-required program for 18-to-21-year-olds who may not be ready physically or emotionally to begin their adult lives. “She said her daughter comes home excited. She’s happy. She feels like she’s in college.”
In past years, VVSD operated a young adult transition program at both high schools but facilities were limited and they had the feel of traditional classrooms. The includes classrooms, but it also has a kitchen, a laundry room, a shower area, a small apartment-like room and a resource center complete with a job board.
“We teach our students independence by teaching them how to monitor their own lives,” Ekstrom said.
The apartment, which includes a futon, a table and a desk, plus couches donated by and , gives students a place to relax before or after work assignments and between classes. The students are responsible for keeping the area clean.
Students cook simple meals in the kitchen, and utilize the washer and drawer in the laundry room to learn how to keep clothes clean. A “clothing closet” in the laundry room provides nicely pressed clothes for job interviews.
“We can always use more clothes for the closet,” Ekstrom said. “We’ll gratefully take clean business-appropriate clothing so our students can grab an outfit at a moment’s notice if they have an interview.”
Students arrange interviews for jobs (both paid and unpaid) through the STEP resource center which lists open positions oftentimes created by hard work in the community by Transition Special Vocation Teachers Besset Sabourin and Blain Duesing. Melanie Phelan completes the three-member job team with most of her work taking place inside the resource center.
“They go to local businesses and tell them about our students,” Ekstrom said, pointing out that about three quarters of the 50 STEP students are in some sort of job training in the community at such places as , , Senior Star, , the , and Joliet Junior College’s Renaissance Center.
“We provide our students with support by helping learn the steps in applying for a job like researching the company, talking with the manager and even stopping by just to see the site,” Ekstrom added. “Every job has a binder with a description and the boss’ name.”
Eighty percent of most students’ time is spent out of the building either working or learning other skills they will need as they leave the school setting to live their lives as adults.
“Whenever possible, we make our curriculum as mobile as possible because our students need to be mobile, Ekstrom said.