Students with special needs at Durango High School who are 18 to 21 years old find themselves at a crossroads.
They often don’t have that much in common with younger students, yet they lack the skills and know-how to function in the larger, outside community.
There to help them make the transition, since August 2013, is the Pathways to Independence program.
“Pathways provides them independent-living skills, life skills,” said Njal Schold, supervisor of student services in Durango School District 9-R.
Adrea Bogle, a speech language pathologist with San Juan BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) is the transition coordinator. Devon Parson is a 9-R teacher who works with the students.
There are seven special-needs students in Pathways. Twenty younger special-needs students study at the high school, where students with special needs can remain until age 21.
Pathways teaches the 18- to 21-year-olds to function in the community. They learn practical skills – grocery shopping, taking a bus, managing a budget and socializing with community members outside their peer group.
“Pathways is the bridge between high school and the community,” Bogle said. “They need and deserve to be with age-related peers.”
Recreational activities, among them Zumba and water aerobics, are made available to Pathways participants. They also have first-time introductions to chosen community members to gain social skills.
As a way to learn skills needed to make it in the working world, such as responsibility, getting to work on time or skills needed to find and keep a job, Pathways participants may bus dishes, clean tables and mop floors at Denny’s and the Lost Dog Bar & Lounge or build lunch sandwiches at Manna Soup Kitchen.
One Pathways student works at the La Plata County Humane Society to find out if his goal of becoming a veterinarian technician is what he really wants to do.
If it is, he will have to study a year at Eastern New Mexico University, which has a vocational program for special-needs students.
Several students spend 90 minutes every other week at Manna Soup Kitchen.
Brandy Loutherback, 19, who graduated last year, was there last week. She wants to write historical fiction.
“I’ve written the first chapter of a novel based on Richard Duke of York and the War of the Roses,” Brandy said as she smeared peanut butter and jelly on slices of bread. “I’m also interest in fantasy and the Roaring Twenties.”
Max Odell, 21, who will graduate in 2015, was working beside Brandy.
“After I graduate, I’m moving to Denver to help my grandma,” Max said. “I’m going to help around the house and take care of her.”