Norwich Transition Academy graduates have jobs, prospects

Norwich — The nine graduates in the new Norwich Transition Academy post-high school vocational program proved they share a strong work ethic and determination to learn new skills needed in the region's job market.

But their teachers revealed other more unique traits to family members, friends and supporters during Wednesday's graduation ceremony.

Reginald Trombley of Norwich felt the Hickory Street School, where the program was launched this year, needed a decorative touch-up. He stuck googly eyes on all the light switches and other spots and didn't tell his teachers. Program director and transitional specialist Thomas Dufort admitted it took him a few days to notice one set of googly eyes on a light switch. “They're everywhere,” teacher Laura Dowdell had to point out to him.

Tyler Belfleur of Canterbury didn't want to give a graduation speech Wednesday, but the budding rapper put his thoughts to verse.

“I'll be a graduate, so these salutations are for you to hear,” teacher Amy Fields read. “My bars will hit you like an oncoming deer. You make fun of Vanilla Ice but he makes stacks. Just know I'mma make it, and that's facts.”

Belfleur, along with fellow graduates Trombley, Thonny Cancho of Norwich, Stephen Reeves and Chelsea Riordan, also each from Norwich, will be working at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Graduate Sidney Jackson of Norwich will work at the Norwich Public Schools Food Services Department at Kelly Middle School, which hosted the graduation ceremony Wednesday. When school ends, Jackson will start a new job at Norwich Rent-a-Center.

Jackson heard a shout of encouragement when he walked to the podium to receive his diploma, and the voice wouldn't be quieted until Jackson acknowledged: “I see y'all baby!” he said, waving to his 3-year-old son, Junior. Jackson's other two children, Azariah, 4, and Queen, 1, also attended with his fiancée, Bernadette Gilbert.

Norwich Public Schools launched the vocational training transitional academy for special education students ages 18 to 21 this year to avoid paying tuition to outside schools for the service. Many of the students attended the program at Norwich Free Academy in past years.

School Superintendent Abby Dolliver, who featured the program on her public access television show, “Ask Abby Dolliver,” earlier in the school year, said the program cost $255,000, including the $34,000 in wages paid to students in the work training program. NPS saved $438,000 in tuition and other costs, she said. The program also brought in $158,000 in tuition revenue to the city's general fund, with $65,000 of that turned back over to the program to cover costs, she said.

Dufort also thanked the Norwich Public Schools Education Foundation for providing a $750 grant at the start of the school year to pay for Southeast Area Transit bus tickets to get to job sites. The program partners with several local businesses, including Big Y Supermarket in Norwich, which provided food for the graduation luncheon, Mohegan Sun, Papa Gino's at East Brook Mall in Mansfield, Goodwill Industries, Lisbon Central School custodial department and the Norwich schools' food services program.

Graduates Jaime Burgos-Matos of Franklin and brothers Jelson Gomes and Jilson Gomes of Norwich, will work with the state Department of Rehabilitative Services for additional vocational training and to apply for jobs, Dufort said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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