First graduating class of post-high school transition center celebrated Monday

East Lyme — Family, friends and educators applauded on Monday the accomplishments of the first graduating class of a post high school transition program.

The commencement ceremony, held Monday morning on the lawn by the East Lyme Schools' Central Office, celebrated the graduates.

"You should be proud, extremely proud of all that you've done and all of your hard work," East Lyme Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton told the graduates.

Graduates Nathan Avery, Bruce Gregor, Katie Honsa and Evan Howard shook hands with Newton, Assistant Superintendent Donna Gittleman and Board of Education member Candice Carlson at the graduation.

The commencement featured speeches, the presentation of candidates and the national anthem, sung by members of the high school's choir.

The East Lyme Schools' and LEARN program, called the Post High School Transition Center, is intended to provide transitional skills, including vocational and independent-living training, for students with disabilities, ages 18 to 21, who have completed their high school requirements.

"As our graduates begin a new chapter in their lives, we wish them success, fulfillment and joy," said Gittleman.

Bridgette Gordon-Hickey, the student support services director for LEARN, the regional education agency, said the event is to honor graduates as they continue on paths into adulthood.

"Our schools and programs aspire to be safe places of learning and inspiration, a place where souls are nurtured, friendships are made, and learning is celebrated," she said during her remarks. "A place that exhausts the resources to help students find their own voices, no matter how seemingly quiet. It is a place where young people are valued and respected, and today we reflect on that transition."

"We are here to celebrate the potential and embrace what is to come," she added. "We are here to recognize the limitlessness of ability and to take a moment to reflect on the small moments and the beauty of each step. We are here to cheer for the triumphs and successes, learn from the steps that were unsteady and join hands to watch and embrace what is to come."

Margaret and Michael Avery, said their son, Nathan, a graduate, has worked with LEARN since he was in kindergarten. Nathan has always enjoyed being out in the community, and they noticed that the post-high program built his skills, enabling Nathan to advocate for himself more and become more social. Nathan will work at Buckingham Community Services after graduation.

"It gave him directions to go to, to look at, things to do that worked for him," said Margaret. "That was the best part: what worked for him."

LEARN Transition Coordinator Lois Eldridge said the graduates of the program, based at a center on Boston Post Road, are prepared and ready for their next step.

As part of the Post High School Transition Center, students spend time in the community and learn skills, including independent-living and workplace skills, to prepare for post-secondary education or jobs, said Eldridge. Vocational training is also a component of the program, with students working at internships at local businesses, restaurants, museums, or community programs, depending on their goals.

Both East Lyme and regional students are eligible for the program. About 20 students, either full-time or part-time, are participating in the program.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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