Students, parents, teachers and administrators were beaming with pride Friday night at the Valley View School District ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house to mark the , the school district’s Secondary Transition Experience Program. The program provides life skills and vocational training for students with disabilities from 18 to 22.
According to David Hehl, STEP executive director of student services, the program aims to minimize the effects of students’ disabilities while maximizing their exposure to adult curriculum.
“There are 59 students in STEP this year, and projected enrollment for next year is close to 100,” said Carie Johnstone, Valley View student services administrator.
STEP, which debuted last year at both Romeoville and Bolingbrook high schools, now serves all its students at following some $40,000 in renovations. The new space features a full kitchen and a mini “apartment,” where, according to STEP teacher Amanda Carroll, students will work on social skills, talk about current events, fold and iron clothes and learn how to make a bed properly.
“I am very happy,” said Hehl. “This is exactly in line with what research says.”
The way he sees it, the program makes much more sense than having adult students study at desks in a building designed for teens.
“Now their experiences are out in the community and on college campuses, which helps them to integrate into post-secondary life,” Hehl said.
Some students receive on-the-job training through unpaid internships at local businesses such as IKEA, The Locker Room and Walgreen’s. Others enroll in classes in culinary arts, horticulture and auto repair at Joliet Junior College and College of DuPage.
“The program was five years in development,” Hehl said. “The plan has always been to provide an experience for students 18 to 22 who require additional support or services to make a successful transition to adulthood.”
Two of those students are siblings Diane and Daniel Hoogland, both graduates of BHS. Diane attended STEP last year, and Daniel is looking forward to beginning his first year in the program this week. He said he is especially excited about “eating out and getting out of the building.”
No more sitting at a desk for this young man.
“I’m tired of that,” he said.
The broad smile on Daniel’s face seemed to reflect the sentiment of Valley View Superintendent James Mitchem, who said, “STEP is an example of our school district at work for our children.”