MICHIGAN CITY — Transitions are a part of life. And Michigan City High School aims to make one of those easier on some of its students.
Through the Transition to Adulthood program, a select group of under-resourced seniors have assistance with building skills to become independent adults, gain valuable information about community resources and create personal post-graduation goals.
“There are a lot of kids out there that need that extra support,” explained Deborah Briggs, executive director of the Open Door Adolescent Health Center, the school-based comprehensive health center located on-site at MCHS. “Not only do they need to graduate – they need to be prepared for the outside world.”
In somewhat of a “parenting” one-on-one situation, Briggs and Jennifer Carol, the Assessment and Coordination Specialist at Open Door, answer questions, give reminders to help the students stay on the right track and listen to their concerns and fears for the future. Attendance issues, grades that need more attention and medical situations that require a visit to the health clinic are some of the needs addressed.
Some of the 25 students enrolled in the Transition to Adulthood program are on their own or are in situations where their parents don’t know how to navigate the resources themselves.
“They are already struggling and the idea is to give them support,” Briggs said.
The free program began four years ago and has been partially funded by an Indiana State Department of Health Title V Addressing Medical Home grant. Participation in the free program begins first with registration in the Open Door Adolescent Health Center. Next, Carol meets the student on an individual basis. The initial assessment addresses personal goals after high school, and evaluates current personal resources and skills as well as those the student would like to develop.
In addition to the 1-on-1 monthly visits with Carol, the students can take part in group meetings held during one class period every other week. The time of day varies so the students aren’t pulled out of the same class every time.
During the group sessions, community members are often invited to talk to the class on a variety of subjects to build a “community connectedness,” said Briggs.
She and Carol focus on a particular theme each month. For example, March’s emphasis is on health, and HealthLinc’s Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Nila Williams was on hand to speak to the students on Tuesday.
Other representatives from Covering Kids & Families of Indiana and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield are scheduled to speak about insurance coverage and other available services and programs. The Purdue University Extension Office has covered nutrition and grocery shopping, and Doug Stephens from Uptown Auto in Michigan City will offer tips on purchasing a first vehicle. Horizon Bank, which operates a branch within MCHS, educated the students on financial literacy. Other topics included have been budgeting, housekeeping, taxes and scholarships.
The students are invited to attend every presentation, but not all do. Briggs and Carol ask for feedback as to what kind of information the students want to learn more about.
“It depends on what they ask for and what we identify as a need,” said Carol.
“The whole idea is to have a group cohesiveness. It makes it nice when they look around and realize that they are not alone,” said Briggs.
The group presentations also provide a way “to get them connected in the community so if they need something they know where to turn and learn how to be resourceful,” she continued.
“It’s about building relationships here where they can turn,” added Carol. “They need to be their own advocate knowing where to turn and where to ask … once they leave this building, where will they go for answers and support? Hopefully, we are bridging them.”
“It’s a matter of helping them to be creative,” Briggs said.
“It builds confidence as they make steps to achieve their goals,” Carol added.
“A lot of these kids maybe have never been good problem-solvers,” Briggs went on.
Carol pointed out that some are afraid to ask questions face-to-face with the familiarity of and reliance on texting as a means of communication.
And, anxiety over their upcoming high school graduation can be paralyzing.
“Their anxiety levels get very high as graduation nears … it can be numbing for some kids,” said Briggs.
Last school year, there were 171 one-on-one sessions with the social worker who held Carol’s position previously and 160 encounters within a group session through the Transition to Adulthood program. At the end of the school year, a celebration/graduation ceremony is held for the participants in the Transition to Adulthood program.