CCTA helps children grow into happy, healthy adults

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By Erica Drzewiecki, La Presse Bristol

December 15, 2021

The city’s transition academy has improved the lives of individuals and helped local businesses for many years. Since becoming the Central Connecticut Transition Academy, the organization has grown even stronger, as has the community.

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The ACCT facility at 362 Main Street is leased to the school district by the YMCA Berlin-Kensington. The academy has expanded to the entire facility this year. In turn, the Y nursery school / daycare rents premises in two schools in Berlin.

“As our program grew we needed more space, but we loved this place,” said Laura Leary, teacher.

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The group can walk to Webster Bank, Walgreens and the cafe. Being on Main Street, they are right in the heart of downtown Berlin and are as much a part of it as any other entity.

Students go out and about 80% of the time after all learn to be active members of the community and to grow up to be happy, healthy adults.

Aged 18 to 22, Transition Academy students have intellectual and developmental disabilities. For many, it is autism. After graduating from high school, they enter the program for one, two, three or four years. When they are ready to go, they take with them an official diploma and the tools to become a successful adult.

“We encourage them to stay until the age of 22 because we are working on their skills to be independent,” Leary said.

They learn everything from cooking, cleaning and laundry to good manners, budgeting and working with others.

The Berlin Transition Academy had hosted Cromwell students for three years, and school districts came together to form CCTA a few months ago.

Linda Holian, Director of Student Services at Berlin Schools, works closely with Cromwell’s Director of Student Services, Sari O’Leary.

“Both school boards are on board,” said Holian. “It’s a wonderful program. We are part of several districts in the state that have merged. Our students can develop relationships with each other and it saves resources.”

Mon-Thu the students meet in their building in the morning before heading to their work sites.

They receive a $ 40 stipend from the CCTA every two weeks, and the money is spent on lunch and other necessities, like a new collared shirt for work. If there is any leftover, they can buy themselves an ice cream or a soda.

Community partners include Kohl’s, Hospital for Special Care, Eversource, CVS, Department of Transportation, the Hampton Inn, AMCO, Connecticut Beverage Mart and others. These organizations offer work experience and vocational training, but benefit from free labor, as students come with a work coach and insurance and are paid by CCTA. Staff hope more local businesses find out about their existence and become community partners.

“We are always on the lookout for more work sites for our students,” Leary said.

Mondays are shopping days. Before leaving, students plan their breakfasts for the week, trying to fit at least three food groups per meal while staying on budget.

“The price of the products has gone up recently and they are very aware of it,” Leary said.

She and her fellow teacher Victoria Muggleston teach them tips and tricks like separating a bunch of grapes or bananas to get just enough. They will weigh less on the registry, cost less, and students will waste less.

Some lessons are more difficult than others. When showing up in inappropriate clothes for work, for example, they need to learn that yes, beauty is on the inside, but being presentable and professional is very important to one’s success.

Cameren Nelson enjoys his work at the Berlin-Peck Library. It’s just him and the books.

“It’s relaxing to be around the books and I like it to be calm,” Nelson said.

Several students work at Fosdick Corp., a packaging and distribution center in Berlin.

“I had a very busy day today,” said Cameran Johnson as he sat down on one of the sofas at CCTA after returning from work. “We pack boxes and make boxes. I like it. It gives me something to do.”

This is the 20-year-old Berliner’s first year at the academy. He enjoys it so far.

“It gives me new experiences,” Johnson said.

His favorite part? Community events, which students call “field trips”. Fridays are leisure days.

“They have favorite places,” Leary said. “Dave & Buster’s is a big one. They also love bowling. ”

Sometimes they team up with transitional academies in Newington and Wethersfield to do activities together.

“This gives our students a whole new set of peers,” Muggleston said.

This fall, groups traveled to Old Wethersfield to participate in the popular ‘Scarecrows on Main’ event and have pizza together on the green.

“We find that the social component at all levels is the biggest challenge we need to work on,” Leary said. “If we can help them connect with others and make friends, it can make all the difference.”

Slumped down on the couch next to Johnson was Dakota Serafia, who also works at Fosdick.

“We have had a busy day,” Serafia said. “My friends have all just come back. I love all of my yards. In fact, I’m going to a new one tomorrow.”

Shuttles take them to work and school.

Most students will never get a driver’s license, so they also need to learn to use public transport. This comes in handy when doing paid internships sponsored by the state’s Level Up program.

“I had never taken a bus before, so I learned from them,” Muggleston said.

The front room they just inherited from the Y is transformed into an office space. Students will do the construction themselves, and then once they have a new desk, they will learn things like filling out papers, answering phones, using a photocopier, and other clerical tasks.

“These are students who maybe felt they didn’t fit into high school,” Leary said. “Here they are more comfortable and can work on developing their self-esteem.”

Everyone has their place at CCTA. And if they can fit in here, they can learn to fit in anywhere.

“Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses,” Muggleston said. “They feel more comfortable here having a disability. They learn that it’s part of who you are, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

Erica Drzewiecki can be contacted at [email protected]


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