While most students with intellectual disabilities remain in high school until the age of 21, in 2001, Southern alumna and adjunct professor Michelle Bogart decided to find another option for her son, Sean Bogart, who has Down’s syndrome.
Bogart, along with members of the Hamden school board and Southern officials, helped to launch the Hamden Transition Academy in 2003, located in Davis Hall.
“I didn’t want him to do his four years of high school at the high school and then stay three more years at the high school,” said Bogart. “I thought that was confusing for him.”
Bogart, who is a special education teacher in New Haven and an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University and Southern, approached the Hamden School board which was receptive to the idea of creating more innovative ways to prepare students for the workforce.
Bogart began working with Sandra White, Hamden’s former special education director and current director of HTA, to obtain a $10,000 planning grant, a $14,000 implementation grant, and a $90,000 grant to launch the program, which is now in its seventh year.
Since its debut, 26 students have graduated from the program, which has grown from six to 14 students attending this year. HTA has grown to accept students from surrounding districts, including West Haven, Amity, Madison, Guilford and North Branford.
“It’s a model program in the state, it’s a great feeling to have been on the ground floor of something that is so unique and so special,” said Bogart. “It gets a lot of positive feedback. Those students who have graduated are well prepared for the working world.”
White said the staff in the program teach individualized life skills, as well as math, reading and writing.
Students work with speech and language pathologists, psychologists, tutors and mentors.
Students have the opportunity to go to the Student Center daily, where they have lunch and mingle with other students.
“I can’t tell you how good the students feel as soon as they step on the campus, it just does wonders for their self-esteem,” said White. “They look around and they see their age-mates and they emulate what the students are doing.”
On Fridays, HTA students join students from the Recreation and Leisure Studies department and participate in community participation day, where in the past, they have enjoyed canoeing, kayaking, shopping and banking, among other activities.
In their first year, HTA students take on-campus jobs, commonly in landscaping, campus offices and the mailroom. In their last year, students are matched with jobs in the community.
Bogart said her son Sean, a 2006 graduate, “absolutely” benefited from HTA.
“As a result, his transition from school to work was as smooth as smooth can be,” said Bogart. “It was almost seamless because they have high expectations of their students and those expectations are in line if not higher than what the next level would be.”
James Fracasse, a current student of HTA came from Hamden High School.
Fracasse, 21, now works at the Breakfast Nook in North Haven and in the Marshall’s men’s department, which he says is a “big job.”
“It’s demanding,” he said. “I love the rewards it comes with.”
Previously, Fracasse worked in landscaping and in the mailroom on campus.
“I got a lot more than I anticipated I would get out of HTA,” said Fracasse.