Watertown Public Schools has offered a Transition Work Program for students between the ages of 18 and 21, housed at Watertown High School, for many years. In an effort to provide a more authentic program to help students transition to “real life,” the district entered into a partnership with the Siemon Company, and moved the transition program’s base to office space in Siemon Business Park East located at 27 Siemon Company Drive. Now called the Watertown Transition Academy, the program serves as a model transition program in the area, and as such, receives tuition-paying students from surrounding districts as all public school districts are required to provide such a program for students with disabilities until age 21. The Watertown Transition Academy, led by Transition Coordinator, Pamela McGuire, has a mission to provide employment skills training, authentic work experience, community exploration, and social skills development for trainees, guided by the belief that all individuals have the potential to be productive members of the community who are competitively employed.

Trainees participating in the program are given internships at local businesses, made possible by the successful partnership between the school district and business community. The school district has been fortunate to have had partnerships with over thirty area establishments. Some, such as LaBonne’s, Jimmy’s and Marshalls, have been provided internships and employment opportunities for more than twenty years others, such as Bushka Lumber and H&T in Waterbury, are new partners. The Academy is always seeking new business participation to enhance the diversity of work experiences offered to the trainees. A current goal is to develop partnerships with more factory-based businesses and those with data entry or document management needs. The trainees are a diverse group of individuals with varying strengths and abilities. Mrs. McGuire and Transition Instructor, Sandra Ammirato, work with the trainees and employers to ensure a good employer/trainee fit.

The new WTA office serves as both a classroom and home-base for trainees and employment facilitators, Mrs. McGuire and Mrs. Ammirato. While at the Siemon office trainees receive training in essential employment skills; such as quality assurance, teamwork, managing difficult situations/people, and appropriate behaviors and conversations in the workplace. In addition, the Siemon Company allows the trainees to have memberships for their fitness center which they use two to three times each week. This is another essential piece of a transition program; to help trainees develop healthful living habits.

The WTA’s core belief is that providing the trainees with meaningful work experiences they value and participating in positive social interactions provides them with a sense of belonging that enhances trainees’ self-esteem, builds confidence and optimizes independence. Work and social acceptance improve the quality of all our lives. The vision for the WTA is to provide these opportunities for individuals with disabilities to demonstrate that their “differences” are an asset in any environment. The WTA highlights the excellent partnerships the school district maintains with the Watertown community, businesses and organizations.