WESTFIELD – The East Mountain Transition Program held a Community Connections Open House on Wednesday to showcase the program and student accomplishments, and to thank its community partners.
According to Sherry Elander, transition teacher with the Westfield Public Schools, the program is respected across the state for providing exceptional transition service, guidance and support for students with intellectual disabilities and their families.
When Elander first started working with the students in Westfield 17 years ago, there was one program for ages 14-22. She said most of these students remain at school until they turn 22. She recognized that the needs of students ages 18-22 were very different than with the younger age group.
“I created the transition program in the fall of 2007 with six students. Now we have 25,” Elander said.
This is the second year that the program is housed in a building leased from Western Mass Hospital. Elander said the program only has to pay for the utilities for the building.
The transition program focuses on self-determination, travel skills, and safety awareness. The students are also able to spend time with their people their own age.
Students can also participate in programs at Holyoke Community College and at Westfield State University through the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) program, which provides dual enrollment opportunities for transition students. Students have the opportunity to take college courses, for credit or audit, with supports determined through their individual education plans.
Doris Love, a paraprofessional with the program, works one-on-one with transition students in the program. Love said 12 students are now in the college program. She also shadows students at work sites at Noble Hospital and Shaker Farms Country Club.
“We need more job sites,” Love said, although she admitted the students have to rely on PVTA transportation from the East Mountain Road location, which is limited.
Two of the students showcasing their crafts at the Open House were Krysta Torres and Steve Robtor.
Torres had a table of beaded necklaces for sale that she made, and Robtor had a prototype of a doll house, along with a survey asking people which features they would like to see in a doll house, and how much they would pay for one.
Also present was Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, who presented certificates to the program’s community partners.
“This program can go a long way towards building bridges in the community,” Knapik said.
Some of the other community partners honored included the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Springfield College, Stavros, the Food Pantry, DPW, YouthWorks, the Carson Center and The Salvation Army.
Elander and Love were excited about the turnout at the open house.
“With the right connections and a dream, anything is possible,” Elander said.