This week nine students with significant disabilities took part in a graduation ceremony at Kauri Sue Hamilton School in Riverton. It was a time of celebration and anxiety about what lies ahead.
Friends and family packed the lobby at Kauri Sue, cheering on the students sitting sitting on a stage up front. Each wearing a cap and gown.
The actual name for the ceremony is a transition exercise and that word "transition" was on the minds of each of the parents in attendance.
“You know it’s really scary," says Amy Poulson. "I’ve been scared about this transition time for a long long time.”
Amy's daughter Shayla was one of the students receiving a certificate. Shayla is nonverbal and in a wheelchair and Amy say it's tough to leave behind a place that been such a great fit for her.
“Any kind of change for these kids is so huge so when they have change it’s really difficult on them but I think it’s equally difficult on us as parents," Amy says.
Shayla and her peers are older than typical public school graduates. They each have a mix of intellectual and communication disabilities and are offered special education services up until the age of 22.
"At our school we have kids from age 5 to 22," says Rita Bouillon, the principal at Kauri Sue. "We’re the only school in the district that has students for 17 years. So we really get to know our students and their families really well.”
Bouillon says she and her staff do their best to prepare these students and their parents for the next step.
“We’re fortunate to live in the Salt Lake valley where there are a lot of choices," says Bouillon. "There are a lot of day programs for kids to go to but there are also a federal initiative to have these kids considered for jobs.”
Bouillon says one of their students was just offered a job working a few hours a week at a local pizza place. But the vast majority of these graduates will move on to day programs to help integrate them into the community.
These programs, Bouillon says, they’re just not the same as school. They often have less resources and less activities. But she hopes that these students have the skills and the support to make it work.