Students and community celebrate C-Tran, secondary therapeutic classroom graduates

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Post updated at 2:02 p.m. Friday, May 17:

Gratefulness was the theme Friday as families, teachers, paras and students celebrated this year’s group of C-Tran and secondary therapeutic classroom graduates from Community Connections at Pinckney. 

The Community Transition Program helps young adults ages 18-21 with vocational skills, independent living, transitioning from school to adult life and more. This year’s two graduates featured in the ceremony were Donovan Hill and Ethan Sigourney. 

The secondary therapeutic classroom program offers an alternate setting for students to earn their high school diploma. The classroom had five graduates: Haylee Stambaugh, Sal Garrison, Ellie Murphy Bowen, Kaden Chantikhiao and Charlie Burns. 

Four students were recognized as moving from the C-Tran program to the Project SEARCH program next year: Kenny Burk, Jackson Caldwell, Anthony Watts and Charlie Burk. Garrison will also join the Project SEARCH program next year.

“Although their journey has not always been easy, their determination and resilience have led them to this momentous occasion,” said Jenna Viscomi, special education secondary coordinator and administrator at Community Connections at Pinckney. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Students and their families and supporters listen to Jenna Viscomi speak.

“They have shown us all what it means to be truly courageous and persistent. Throughout their time in the programs, they have grown in so many ways,” she said.

“Pomp and Circumstance” played as graduates walked through a balloon archway and down a center aisle as their community looked on. Those communities made all the difference in getting the graduates to this moment, said transition specialist Jennifer Burnes.

“Today we celebrate their achievements, their strength and their bright futures,” Burnes said. “We’re immensely proud of you guys. You have shown that with hard work, determination and a supportive community anything is possible.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jennifer Burnes

Short videos were played for both C-Tran graduates, featuring thank yous and good wishes from their paras, teachers and peers. 

“I see Donovan (Hill) out there singing and dancing, totally focused, totally engrossed in what he’s doing,” Burnes said. “And it kind of changed my perspective, it gave me, I think, a wider perspective. I learned then that his profound love for music and dance and movement are ways that can help him learn.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Donovan Hill

Burnes said she was proud of how she saw the students grow in their independence and continue to develop work experience.

“I can always give students the chance to do things themselves because you never know when you might be the one to be learning from them,” Burnes said. “So thank you Ethan and thank you all for being a part of this community.”

The secondary therapeutic classroom graduates spoke about their journeys — which they said were altered for the better thanks to the work of teacher Mallory Johnson. 

“I feel like if I wouldn’t have made it here, I probably wouldn’t have made it in public school,” Stambaugh said. “So every single day I was grateful to be able to come here.”

Johnson said she was thankful for each of the students’ leadership and growth in the classroom.

“They chose us to teach them,” she said. “And that’s a lot. Because they have a lot of reasons to not choose adults in their life. So they’re extremely resilient and they chose to come back every day.”

Johnson listed three qualities of each student that she loved about them. Each graduate spoke about their journey and how they grew in the classroom.

“I will always be grateful for Mallory,” Murphy Bowen said. “And everyone else that was there last year and this year. I probably would not be here without them at all.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Ellie Murphy Bowen (left) and Mallory Johnson
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Some of the C-Tran graduates will move on to Project SEARCH next year.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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