Transition Plus and Pathways merge

Two of Anoka-Hennepin’s special education transition sites for 18- to 21-year-old students have merged.

Pathways staff member Dianne Niper works with students Adrian Stein, left, and Stephen Ho in the district’s food shelf. Submitted photo
Pathways staff member Dianne Niper works with students Adrian Stein, left, and Stephen Ho in the district’s food shelf. Submitted photo

Transition Plus out of Anoka and Pathways out of Coon Rapids now operate under the Pathways name as one school at 11238 Crooked Lake Blvd, Coon Rapids.

“The merging of Transition Plus and Pathways is our hope to create a more comprehensive program …,” said Kathy Ferguson, special education supervisor at the two schools, now one school.

Transition Plus opened at 403 Jackson St. in 1993. It served as a place for students to focus on life after Anoka-Hennepin, learning independent living skills, mastering academics and more. However, more specific vocational training was missing from the program, staff realized, Ferguson said.

So, three years ago, Pathways was born. As its name implies, Pathways provides a place for students to really nail down a path to post-secondary education or the workforce.

Staff works with students to draft resumes and practice the interview skills that are necessary to be accepted into post-secondary education and to become gainfully employed.

Students also have the opportunity to hone a variety of skills in unpaid work sites.

Students can opt to work in the district’s food and clothing distribution centers, manufacture toys with TLC Toys, refurbish computers as part of a program called REBOOT, assist the district custodial staff with laundry and more.

Ferguson estimates that by saving district employees hours of work and participating in electronics recycling programs, the students have saved the district more than $65,000, she told the school board this spring in a presentation about the upcoming changes for the two transition sites.

Students have produced more than 23,000 toys and taken in more than 17,250 clothing, food and personal hygiene items, she said.

In past school years, approximately 150 students attended Transition Plus, Ferguson said, and nearly all of them also went over to Pathways. Pathways saw an additional 20 students each year float in from other district programs.

Now, students will not have to travel back and forth between sites. Ferguson expects Pathways enrollment to be around 170 and decrease slightly throughout the 2014-2015 school year, she said.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Pathways served 170 students, but not all at one time. So, the district leased additional space at 11238 Crooked Lake Blvd.

Construction to add 11 classrooms commenced and concluded before the end of the school year. Most of them will be used as traditional classrooms, but one will be used as a computer lab and one as a kitchen for independent living classes, Ferguson said.

Approximately 14.5 percent of Anoka-Hennepin’s student population, more than 5,000 students, are special education students on an Individualized Education Program, according to Cherie Peterson, the district’s special education director.

Students on an IEP are eligible to come to Pathways when they turn 18, and now, in certain circumstances, when they hit high school.

“We want to get students ready for competitive employment and higher education at a younger age even,” Ferguson said.

So, district work coordinators will help high school students on IEPs explore career options at Pathways for a portion of the school day, maybe one or two hours, if students choose to do so, according to Ferguson.

“Hopefully what we’ll see is increased numbers graduating with their same-age peers on time,” she said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]