Eight graduate from Norwich Transition Academy into jobs

Norwich — The eight graduates of the Norwich Transition Academy took their teachers’ advice to heart as they prepared to leave their school and job training program and enter the adult working world following Thursday’s ceremony.

Teacher Laurie Dowdell said she often gave her students tips on how to succeed in the working world: plan accordingly, set a backup alarm clock and make checklists of things they need to do. Dowdell collected a few of the sticky notes with reminders the graduates wrote and put on their lockers to prepare for Thursday’s graduation ceremony at Kelly Middle School.

“Remember to thank the NTA staff today, because they are awesome,” one note said.

“Pick up flowers for mom today because she’s been a big part of my support system,” another said.

“Dinner plans tonight: Eat a celebratory cheeseburger.”

The Norwich Transition Academy is a post-high school training program for special education students ages 18 to 21 to learn vocational skills and train at job sites, including Big Y Supermarket, Mohegan Sun Casino, the Norwich Public Schools food service program and other locations throughout the region.

Seven students received both diplomas and completion certificates from the Mohegan Sun Student Inclusion Program: Magy De La Cruz Tapia, Nailiana Marrero-Negron, Tyler Palmer and Joshua Stanley, all of Norwich, Kasia Duhaime and Daniel Witucki of Lisbon and Scott Young of Canterbury.

Graduate Anthony Crespo of Norwich received his diploma in the ceremony.

Several graduates already have jobs in the region, including Young, who recently got his driver’s license and started working full time at the Lowe's warehouse in Plainfield. Young, who entered the program two and a half years ago as a shy student who barely spoke to teachers and colleagues, program coordinator Thomas Dufort said, graduated with experience assisting fellow students with mock job interviews. He recently gave a presentation to the Canterbury Board of Education on his experiences with the program.

“None of this is comfortable for Scott,” Canterbury Director of Special Education Services Jodi Davis said before handing Young his diploma. “But he has not given up, knowing that this is something he needs to be able to do to be successful and independent.”

Duhaime left the transition academy early, when she obtained a full-time job at Uncas School in the Norwich food services program.

“I love it,” she said after Thursday’s ceremony. “It’s pretty fun.”

Dufort called graduate De La Cruz Tapia a “tremendous worker,” both in school and at job sites. English is not her first language, he said, which added to her challenges. But she always was cheerful and never complained. De La Cruz Tapia will start working full time at Mohegan Sun on Monday.

Graduate Stanley also will begin working full time at Mohegan Sun in August, after he takes a month off to go camping, Dufort said.

In the program, students are accompanied by job coaches at work sites throughout the region. Dufort said as they progress through the program, some students no longer will need job coaches, and they will work independently along with other employees at the companies, while some work with support services provided by the state Department of Developmental Services.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Dufort said. “Our students are walking out of here employable and with jobs.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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