QUINCY — Jacob Houghton kept busy this week working with Transitions School teacher Jessica Carlin on a color-matching activity.
“How about pink? Where’s pink?” Carlin said as Jacob worked to match the face of an octopus with its tentacles of the same color. “Good job.”
Summer school sessions, which wrapped up Friday, helped Jacob reinforce what he learned during the school year and get ready for the next as a first-grader.
He’ll be coming back to the school operated by Transitions of Western Illinois. But other students will be heading to special education programs in Quincy Public Schools and Adams County schools as the school at 721 Hampshire Transitions to focus its educational services on children with autism spectrum disorders.
“Our mission for our school has always been to try to provide something that wouldn’t be available otherwise. We’re hoping our change in focus is allowing us to do that,” Transitions of Western Illinois Executive Director Mark Schmitz said.
“There’s been an evolution of growth of kids with autism and communication disorders. We needed to make a choice which population we could serve best, which needed the unique setting we have the most,” he said, and for students not on the autism spectrum, “the good thing is those kids still have the ability to get services through public schools and have a right to do that.”
Transitions served 25 students in the 2021-22 school year, 20 in summer school and has 15 enrolled for classes beginning in August.
Area districts expect to serve around eight students with multiple disabilities transitioning away from school.
“They have some significant health needs, but we’re ready to meet those needs,” QPS Superintendent Roy Webb said prior to his retirement.
QPS expects five of the students at Quincy High School, where work is already underway to ensure a smooth transition.
“We’re doing some minor updates this summer to classroom space. We already have hired a special ed teacher and staff that bring with them a really vast experience to help us meet the needs of the students,” QPS Special Education Director Eryn Beswick said.
“We’ve had multiple conversations with families, met with some families. My staff has reached out to (Transitions) to learn more about the students to be as prepared as possible,” she said. “We really are anticipating as seamless a transition as we possibly could have.”
The five students will be housed together in a self-contained classroom setting with access to a variety of services including vision and speech, occupational and physical therapy.
“All the pieces are coming together,” Beswick said. “We’ve got great people that are going to be working with these kids that have connections with them, relationships with the families and absolutely have the best interest of these students.”
Adding to the diversity on campus benefits all students, Webb said.
“One blessing of being in a public school is you cross paths with kids of all types of situations, and you learn from each of them,” Webb said. “It allows all of our kids to see some of the advantages that they have and some of the heroics kids show when they have some special needs.”
Transitions School opened in 1970 to provide special education services to children ages 3 to 21 with severe intellectual/developmental disabilities.
“At the time our school started, the special education programs in public schools were not as fully developed as they are now. There are wonderful special education programs in the Quincy district and rural districts in Adams County, and the types of students they’re able to accommodate are totally different,” Schmitz said. “We see our role as supplementary support to services special education districts are providing. We’re continually wanting to look at ways we can make a difference in the unique setting we have to offer.”
Schmitz said the school had no layoffs as a result of the change. Staff members either found other positions, including at QPS, or chose not to continue at Transitions School.
The school expects to start with a smaller enrollment than usual in the new school year, but “we’re getting calls all the time from schools and families interested in looking at our focus on kids with autism and communication disorder,” Schmitz said. “We want to make this transition to focusing on this set of kids a smooth one.”