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District 99 Transition center a point of pride for special needs students

DOWNERS GROVE – Students in the Transition 99 Program were greeted by a new, $1.8 million facility when they came back to class in January.

The program serves between 40 and 45 special needs students from the time they finish high school to when they turn 22.

They learn life skills such as cooking as well as job skills and other classroom learning. In addition, most of the students in the program are placed in internships or jobs for part of the day to prepare them for employment when they leave the program.

They also make visits to the YMCA for physical activity and recreation to encourage healthy lifestyle practices once they leave the program, and teachers help the students enroll for classes at the College of DuPage.

“I really think the transition program allows them the opportunity to be a lot more independent but still have the support of the school district,” District 99 Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Scott Wuggazer said. “It’s been invaluable for these kids to have the extra couple years of support they need to move into adulthood.”

The program was temporarily hosted at the two high schools as the district bought the building, which was essentially a shell, and built out the new center. The Transition 99 Program was previously in a leased building in Westmont for several years.

The district bought the new building at 4232 Venard Road for about $600,000, and the interior build-out and exterior work cost about $1.2 million, according to District 99 Director of Physical Plant and Operations Jim Kolodziej.

“I think it came out phenomenal,” he said. “Reaction from staff and students – they’ve been in there a week – it’s been great. It’s all positive.

“I really feel that the kids are going to benefit from this not only for this semester, but for many years to come.”

The structure now contains four classrooms, bathrooms and a shower area, a large multipurpose area containing two full kitchens, a project room for a shredding business and a ceramic coaster-making business, a conference room, and an office and storage space.

The whole project was completed in about three months, though there is some landscaping work to be finished in the spring.

Wuggazer described the program as a continuation of a team effort that begins when the students enter District 99 as high school freshmen. In high school, the students are introduced to job and life skills which are augmented at the Transition 99 Program, he said. While in the program, many of the students work at Walgreens, IKEA and other businesses.

“The goal is that they then become competitively employed,” he said. “Or their skills might increase to be able to generalize out [from IKEA or Walgreens] to a different business or organization.”

Lead teacher Mike DellaMaria asked his students last week how they felt in the new space, many responded with the word “pride,” he said.

“They’re very proud of the building,” he said. “They’re very excited.”

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