For special education students in the Turlock Unified School District’s On Track Transitions Program, this year was full of significant milestones: learning how to tie shoes without help, completing a load of laundry, and performing tasks with multiple steps.
Another momentous milestone was the focus of celebration and pride on Wednesday as families, friends, district representatives, and community members gathered at Donnelly Park for a ceremony honoring the 2015 graduating class, which included Edgar Jimenez, Mariah Yoppini, Emily Hall, Corinne Balswick, Whitney Hicks, Manuel Cerna, and Michael Zapien Garcia.
“This year’s graduating class includes several students I have known and taught since they were in high school as well as a few students I have only known for a short time,” said teacher Rachel Knoepfle. “Regardless of the length of time they have spent in On Track, they have all made a lasting impressions and they will all be missed.”
Throughout the year, students not only strived to meet their Individualized Educational Programs, but they also learned a multitude of skills that are essential to being independent and successful adults.
According to Knoepfle, skills mastered by this year’s graduating class include accepting mistakes, scoring 50 percent or high on driver’s permit tests, determining change from a purchase, parking lot safety skills, telling time, reading prices on a menu, completing a load of laundry, asking for help, completing tasks with multiple steps, preparing a recipe independently, and tying shoes without help.
“If this year’s class had a theme, it would be independence,” said Knoepfle. “I often hear ‘I’ll do it myself’ from this group and the wonderful thing is they’re all usually right.”
Students also acquired work experience at various job sites that have partnered with On Track, including Turlock City Hall, Turlock Irrigation District, Mundo’s Latin Grill, Turlock Indoor Soccer, Sound Room, Ross, The Salvation Army, and United Samaritan Foundation.
“This is good partnership between TUSD and local businesses, because our students get experience in work settings and businesses in turn get to see what our students can offer them,” said Special Education Director Jeff Santos.
Amongst the graduating class of 2015 was Jimenez, described by Santos as a hard worker who, aside from his can-do attitude and team spirit, enjoys music, especially his favorite band Blink-182, and food, namely orange chicken from Panda Express.
Additionally, Knoepfle described Jimenez as a student whose great participation and strong academic skills have enabled him to work independently at all of his job sites.
“I have known Edgar since he was in high school and this is his third year at On Track,” said Knoepfle. “His thoughtfulness and attention to detail make him a considerate friend as well as a high quality worker.”
Jimenez reported that out of all the job sites, he enjoyed working at Ross the most, where he spent his time sizing and matching shoes, as well as straightening rows. According to Knoepfle, this site specifically taught students like Jimenez about the importance of patience and problem solving.
After graduation, Jimenez has his sights on obtaining a job. Although he has no set employer in mind as of yet, he has been considering another retail outlet: Target.
“This program helped me a lot to become independent and I made a lot of friends,” said Jimenez.
Sharing the same goal with Jimenez is Cerna, who was also one to graduate during Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I remember meeting Manuel while he was in eighth grade and he was visiting Pitman for the first time,” said Knoepfle. “Since then, I have had the remarkable privilege of being his teachers for two years at Pitman and three years at On Track.”
Santos added that aside from academic accomplishments, such as being a hard worker who never gives up, Cerna is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie who likes all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and monster trucks. Cerna also maintains his health through a well-balanced diet and lifting weights.
Above all, Santos noted that Cerna has always been considerate of others.
“One thing about Manny is that he is a gentleman,” said Santos. “If you see him going out with the class to go shopping, he always makes a point to purchase an item for his mother.”
As for Cerna, he hopes to continue working at Mundo’s Latin Grill, where he arrives before the restaurant opens in order to get tables and chairs clean for customers, and is set to work two days at Modesto Junior College, where he will assist in a mechanics class.
“On Track has helped me a lot,” said Cerna. “I am better at working now and it helped with my social skills.”