By JEN CARDINES
Southington High School (SHS) has created a new fifth year program for local special education students to better acclimate to real world experiences. Southington’s Transitional Education in Life Learning and Adult Responsibilities, better known as “STELLAR,” piloted on Sept. 1.
The program is a partnership between Southington Public Schools and Lincoln College of New England.
Beth Ozkan, coordinator of secondary special education for Southington schools, said that programs like these have been around, but it’s a unique program for Southington students.
“The program is designed for students with intellectual disabilities to work with people that are age appropriate,” Ozkan said.
In the past, special education students that need further assistance beyond the age of 18 remained in the high school until they turned 21. Now, STELLAR students meet at Lincoln College of New England every day, so that they are in a learning environment with students their own age.
The program is still staffed by SHS employees, but the college environment provides more opportunities for the fifth year students.
The seven enrolled students are taught by head teacher Jessica Monson, an SHS graduate and first-year teacher in the district. Monson worked with transitional students while getting her certification, and she said she was lucky to receive this job in her hometown.
“Having the opportunity at Lincoln College is wonderful,” she said.
Monson works alongside job coaches Susan King, Sherry Baum, Rhonda Meade, and John Myska. They work inside and out of the classroom with the students to give them hands-on experience with different volunteer outlets.
Also with them is Nancy Chiero, a recently retired SHS special education teacher who spends one full day each week with the class. Chiero helped Ozkan launch the program, and she signed on to work with the program after a long career in the district.
Starting and ending their day at Lincoln, the class spends a lot of time in the community. They exercise at the YMCA, volunteer with Bread For Life, Petco, and Shop Rite. They cook their own lunches twice a week in the kitchen at St. Paul’s Episcopal church. They also learn valuable life skills such as finance when they go to Farmington Bank.
Lincoln occupational and physical therapy (OT/PT) students are required to log experience hours, and the STELLAR class is hoping to work with them to achieve that goal, while benefitting from the therapy.
Monson and the STELLAR staff said that they hope to connect with more programs on campus, even adding a “Best Pals” program, their own take on the international Best Buddies initiative.
“This is just the beginning,” Chiero said. “We want to really immerse our kids there.”
Any local businesses interested in providing volunteer opportunities for the students can contact Jessica Monson at firstname.lastname@example.org.