This article was published on The Daily Northwestern by Yiming Fu on May 28, 2021.
After graduating on May 23, Evanston Township High School seniors will take their next steps forward — steps that, for some, will include a move to ETHS’ Transition House.
The Transition House, a special education program run by the district for young adults aged 18 to 22, aims to facilitate independence and self-determination by offering community-based instruction according to each student’s Individualized Education Plan.
The program director, Nicole Mims Johnson, said the Transition House considers every student’s individual needs. The program, which launched in 2010, is led by two teachers, five to six paraprofessionals, a social worker and a speech language pathologist.
Grayson Deeney aged out of the Transition House last year. Through the program, he learned about life skills such as finances, public transportation, grocery shopping and meal planning.
The Transition House also partners with many organizations to help young adults find jobs and engage with the community. Through the program, Grayson worked at the Family Focus kitchen and the Three Crowns Park retirement community folding laundry.
Martha King, a parent of a former program participant, said she appreciates how the Transition House building is separate from the high school, which facilitates independence.
She said the Transition House was like a “gift,” especially for Grayson, who loves to socialize and interact with others.
“To have this opportunity for them to move into something that is exciting and new — but still a very controlled environment that’s very safe and supportive — is a tremendous relief as a parent,” King said.
According to King, the Transition House was formerly a house on Lemar Ave. that includes kitchen and laundry facilities for students to use.
Deeney and one of his friends from the program said some of their favorite Transition House memories included their trips to the zoo and the chocolate factory, as well as the parties and celebrations. Johnson said students and coordinators work together to plan exit parties for students leaving the program.
“We are really highlighting the student that is moving on to the next chapter of their life,” Johnson said.
The parties depend on what each student prefers, but can be big events that include games such as Kahoot, a lunch and a special gift. Teachers and students gather to celebrate and share pictures and memories.
Ultimately, Johnson said she loves seeing her students grow, work towards goals and make plans to hang out in the community together.
“I enjoy when the students talk about their experiences and talk about how proud they are to have their new jobs or can ‘this is what I did at work today,’” Johnson said. “For me, it’s just really being able to see my students gain more independence.”
Currently, Deeney works in the Family Focus kitchen making hot sauces, a job he continued after he left the Transition House. Deeney also said he loves playing basketball and raving about the new “Mortal Kombat” movie he recently saw in theaters. He grew up playing the video game as well.
“It’s so good,” he said, in reference to the movie. “A lot of fighting… you will love it. You will actually love it.”