Submitted by Rene Carroll
The Washougal Adult Transition Program (WATP) places students at its center, meeting their specific needs and providing learning opportunities for a successful future. WATP provides life and job skills training to help students, ages 18-21 with special needs, transition from school to independent living through community involvement and internships to prepare for competitive employment.
“Our efforts are guided by following the interests of individual students,” said Jessica Nickels, WATP teacher. “We look for opportunities and activities that inspire them. The program is hand tailored to meet student needs.”
The list of skills taught through the program is long and includes everything from grocery shopping to hygiene and resume writing to using public transportation. Teachers also help students develop positive character traits such as punctuality, preparedness and taking initiative. WATP is a part of WSD’s Federal Special Education requirement.
An important component of the curriculum involves internships at local businesses and organizations.
Currently WATP students work as interns at Westlie Ford, Meals and Wheels at the Washougal Senior Center, Best Western, Columbia Ridge Assisted Living, and Nuestra Mesa.
Mario Abukhader, Westlie Ford Fixed Operations Director, approaches these students the same as any other employee. Student Nova Delp works one day a week in the Express Lube area and Andrew Valenzuela in the detail shop. “They are as capable as other new employees,” Abukhader noted. “Like anyone they need an opportunity, training and some
guidance. Not limitations.”
Abukhader said watching the students grow and develop in their jobs is gratifying. “You come away feeling proud of your role in the success they have achieved,” he said. “It is humbling to watch them work and the joy and effort they bring to their job.”
Delp is grateful for the experience he has gained in his nine months at Westlies and he enjoys the hands on and physical work at the lube rack. His responsibilities include tire rotation and tire mounting and balancing, oil changes, battery tests and checking tire pressure and tread depths. To provide a bit of extra oversight and encouragement, a WATP staff member is stationed with each student intern at their work sites.
“Nova is great,” Abukhader said. “He has an intellect around science and technology. He has an understanding and knowledge of certain scientific principals and themes that may not come as naturally to some of our other new employees.”
“The students who work for Meals on Wheels do a wonderful job,” said Ilona Voronko, Meals on Wheel director at Washougal Senior Center. “When they are here to help I know that the dishes will get done! They also help clear the tables. This interaction with the seniors gives students a chance to work on their social skills. I am so grateful for the job they do here!”
Interns at Meals on Wheels include Andrew Valenzuela, Dylan Corbitt, Nathan Odenthal, Gloria Piele and Jeff Shaver. Piele said she enjoys her work at the center. “I like helping by taking dirty dishes from the tables,” she said. “People are very nice and say thank you.”
“Through the volunteer work and internships, our students are also building community relationships and networking outside of school,” Nickels explained. “This is very valuable to them once they have moved on from the school environment.”
“Jessica has systematically taken this transition program into a program that intentionally matches our young adults with internships that directly relate to their goals,” said Sheree Gomez-Clark, WHS Associate Principal. “They are able to develop skills that will enable them to move from school to work and be competitive in that field. Furthermore, Jessica and her team have connected with our community partners in a way that allows for WATP to educate on disabilities and how to provide an inclusive work environment. Students in this program are not only engaged in learning work skills but also develop interpersonal skills, life skills and 21st century skills. WATP is definitely on the rise!”