MARQUETTE - Sitting in groups throughout the room, students in Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency's Transitions class put their heads together, speaking softly as they address the task at hand.
Though the scene may have been lifted straight out of any high school in the country, this class is far from ordinary.
Transitions is offered to special needs students who have completed their course requirements at their local high school. They are eligible to stay in the class until age 26.
From left, Evan VanBremen, 21, Felicia Heintz, 21 and Alex Baker, 23, work together on a group project during MARESA’s Transitions class. The course is offered to special needs students who have completed their course requirements at their local high schools, but want more instruction. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
The same state funding used for local districts' special needs students is used by MARESA to fund the program.
The course focuses on life skills and teaches students how to budget effectively, cook a healthy meal and even offers them hands-on experience with job interviews and employment in and around the Marquette area.
Most students in the class are holding down regular employment through internships in places like the Pet Stop and Big Lots in Marquette, Northern Michigan University and Marquette General Hospital.
"If they're good, it can give them that boost, knowing somebody out there" said Transitions teacher Rayme Martineau. "There're certain students out every day (for work). It's flexible."
Students in the class are also active in the community, volunteering every Wednesday at the Salvation Army in Marquette. They help cook meals and lent some extra hands for the 2011 Thanksgiving dinner, an event that fed more than 100 people. They've raised almost $800 for UPAWS and volunteer regularly at a daycare in Negaunee.
During class hours, Martineau said she tries to focus on making good choices, working with other people and learning how to be independent.
"There're no grades. It's more, are you improving or not. We push independence," she said. "They call in if they're going to be out sick, not their parents. They're all young adults in here.
"That's why we do a lot of teamwork. We're working together, even if you don't like each other. That's something we all can work on."
Frances Hummelgard, 19, is in the Transitions course for the first time this academic year. She said, so far, it has helped her learn how to handle her money better and how to interact positively with others.
"I think it's very educational, learning how to budget," Hummelgard said. "It's not all focused on one thing. Every day, we learn different things. We learn how to help people."
Hummelgard currently works at MGH as a housekeeper. She said the job is just one part of how the class is teaching her things she'd never learned in a more traditional setting.
"It's given me more responsibility and given me a different way to look at things," she said. "Sometimes you have to put up with people you don't like, and you learn to compromise."
Pete Robertson, 20, is also in the course for the first time this year. He said the course has helped him with his math skills and showed him ways to control what he called one hot temper.
"They've helped me work on my temper. Back in the beginning of the year, I would blow up at the drop of a hat," he said.
The class has also helped Robertson budget more effectively, providing him with guidelines to help prevent him from "spending every dollar (he) earns." It's also helped him figure out who he is.
"I start thinking about how I am, personally. There's some soul-searching there," he said.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.