The Big Picture

Thoughts on big issues, challenges, and celebrations of the education work we do....

Ready or Not, Get Set and Go!

A transition success story, with Susanna Quim

 When the opportunity for a paid internship came up this past winter, transition student Susanna Quim felt sure she was ready. Her teacher, Krista Hanson, was confident too becauseQuim had a solid foundation in job skills. But when the first day rolled around, Quim panicked. She felt anxious and unprepared, and Hanson wasn’t sure how to help.

Would this opportunity end before it even got started? Or could Quim work through her stress and stay on at the internship? (Here’s a hint: this is a success story!)


Filling a new internship opportunity

Quim, now age 21, will graduate this June from the Community Transition program in Hillsboro, Oregon. During her years as a transition student, Quim worked closely with Hanson and participated in many work experiences.

“I learned how to work by practicing at different jobs. Like at MOD Pizza, Baby’n’Me, and Sunrise Church. Rite Aid was my favorite place to work because I like stocking the shelves,” said Quim.

Hanson agreed that Quim put 100% into every opportunity. “Susanna excelled in every situation. She is always very positive and works so hard,” said Hanson.

Like most transition professionals, Hanson often reaches out to local businesses for new work experiences for her students. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hillsboro agreed to partner with the Community Transition program. They went beyond the typical work experience and embraced the idea of creating a resume-building opportunity that would come with a paycheck.

“The Chick-fil-A management really took it to the next level with a paid, semester-long internship. They recognize the value of paying a person for their work,” said Hanson.

The internship would be a perfect way for Quim to finish her transition years and learn to manage a paycheck before graduation. In preparation, Hanson and Quim met with the manager, had lunch there with the Community Transition group, and arranged to have a familiar teacher assistant present for her first workday. Quim liked her uniform, which had been tailored for her petite frame.

Everything was set for success. But when the first workday arrived, Quim felt overwhelmed and anxious. “I told myself over and over I can’t do this, I’m not ready!” she explained. But with a bit of guidance from her teacher, Quim remembered to use the self-care and mindfulness techniques they’d been practicing. This helped her move forward, and realize that she could do this, even when it felt scary.


Self-care tools make a difference

The first self-care technique they used was breathing. Slow, deep breaths help calm a stressed mind. The second technique was movement—Quim knows that for her, walking and getting outside releases tension. Finally, Hanson helped her take it one step at a time, starting by changing into the uniform she liked. And one step at a time, she got through the first shift.

Helping Quim was a learning experience for Hanson, too. “I learned that working ‘on the clock’ for a bonafide paycheck can feel very different from other unpaid experiences, even for a student who’s always been confident. We’ve always taught mindfulness and self-care for stress management as part of the Community Transition program, and now I’ve seen how critical those tools really are for students,” said Hanson.

One fear that nagged at Quim was being unable to reach items on higher shelves.

“I’m a fun-sized person, like my whole family. I didn’t know if I could do everything for this job,” she said. But instead of allowing this worry to take over, Quim spoke to her manager. They made sure she had a step stool available, and the problem was solved.

Quim’s duties include cleaning the tables and chairs, setting up silverware, and filling the salad dressings. During moments when she does feel stressed or fidgety, she heads out to the parking lot to check for litter—a self-care solution that fits into her job. She finds satisfaction in being part of a team of fun, friendly co-workers. And best of all, she got to hand out treats for pups on Chick-fil-A’s Doggy Day.

The Chick-fil-A team appreciated Quim’s cheerful disposition and diligence in doing every task well. In their final feedback comments, they emphasized their support for building an inclusive community.

“It’s wonderful to see that steps are being taken to be more inclusive and provide opportunities for people of all abilities to learn work skills in a supportive and accommodating work environment,” they wrote.

What’s next for Quim after wrapping up the internship and graduating from the Community Transition program? She’s not sure yet, but she’s ready to work towards her next step. She’s connecting with a job developer through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). After the thrill of receiving her first paychecks from Chick-fil-A, she’s looking forward to saving money from future wages and planning for travels and fun with friends.

Hanson plans to continue the Chick-fil-A internship for transition students in their final year; she’ll also keep expanding the variety of work experiences in the business community. Hanson describes the process as creative detective work, sleuthing out job opportunities and matching them to students’ skills.

“There’s no job too big or too small. Our students just need a start and then we can pedal our way to the right level of work. Finding that right fit changes lives—I’ve seen it happen. And the business benefits too,” said Hanson.

“I’ll sure miss our shining star, Susanna,” she added. “But I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Finding a Career that Fits Your Heart, with Adi Valencia

Passion + Planning = Success

Some students feel nervous about life after high school because they’re not sure what comes next. For Adi Valencia, the idea of graduating and living on her own is exciting, because she has a clear vision of her next steps.

“It’s a little scary because when you live on your own there’s a lot to figure out for yourself. But if you let fear hold you back, you’ll never move forward in life. I feel ready to do this,” said Valencia.


Reaching out instead of giving up.

Valencia, age 18, moved from California to Hermiston, Oregon for her final year of high school. She started with high hopes, but nothing seemed to go her way at first. She applied for jobs that didn’t work out, and her living situation was stressful. Valencia thought about returning to California. Instead, she reached out for support.

In December 2022, she shared her frustration with a teacher. The teacher referred Valencia to Youth Transition Program (YTP) specialist Nicole Depew. Once Valencia and Depew connected, they worked together to define Valencia’s goals. She wanted a job that matched her interest in taking care of people, with a paycheck that would allow her to move into an apartment of her own. Once the ball got rolling and the plan started to take shape, as Valencia said, “things really started to happen.”

Depew helped Valencia establish the services she’d need after graduation, like medical insurance and other benefits. Then she spotted an opening for a caregiver position at Ashley Manor, a senior living home. Valencia interviewed for the position and started work a few days later.

“I was surprised how quickly it all happened. They said they don’t usually hire people right away but they liked the passion I showed for taking care of people,” she said.


Caregiving as a career

Before moving to Hermiston, Valencia spent time with her grandmother. She saw the level of help that her grandmother needed as she aged, and realized what a difference good care makes in the lives of people who need extra help. She learned that caregiving is a calling that takes commitment and compassion.

“The work is hard but everyday I try to do my job with love. I want the people I work for to feel loved, especially in their last days,” said Valencia. The residents at Ashley Manor are elderly, many with memory loss and dementia. She calls the residents she works with “my ladies” and says that time with her ladies is the best part of her job.

“When I see joy on the faces of my ladies, that lets me know I am on the right track. Every day when I go to work I get excited—I think, ‘Today is going to be a good day.’”

Beyond the emotional rewards of caregiving, these jobs offer growth potential as well. Depew noted that many senior living facilities offer their own certification programs for medical technicians and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). That is huge for small towns, like Hermiston,

“Especially in a small town like ours, where people may not have access to certification programs—this kind of in-house training makes a huge difference. Having the option to grow professionally without going to a separate school makes the caretaking field more available,” said Depew.


Building an independent life

Valencia is currently working toward certification as a medical technician. After high school graduation, she’ll begin the certified nursing assistant (CNA) program. And because Ashley Manor has a large number of patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, she’s receiving special training in that area as well. She’s begun applying for apartments to rent and expects to find her new home by early summer.

Her persistence continues to impress Depew. “When Adi first came to me, she knew she wanted to build an independent life. Now she is working step by step toward that goal. She’s like that expression ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ She finds caregiving so rewarding that it’s not like work. I’m always so impressed with her enthusiasm,” said Depew.

Interested in exploring a career in caregiving? Learn more about working as a caregiver, or find job opportunities in Oregon here.

A Transition Student finds the formula for success

Setting goals and sticking to them, with Sebastian McBurney

What’s the best approach to making the most of the transition program years?

For Sebastian McBurney, the answer is simple: just act like being a transition student is your job.

“You have to show up, sign in when you arrive, participate as much as you can, and then say goodbye before you leave,” said McBurney.

By treating the transition program like a job, McBurney gained experiences that helped him define important goals for his life. His list included finding a job at a business he liked, earning his driver’s license, living independently, and setting up a savings account. Achieving any one of those goals would be impressive—but McBurney has done them all.


Saying “yes” to every opportunity

McBurney, age 20, will graduate this spring from the Community Transition Program (CTP) in Springfield, Oregon. He feels ready for the change, knowing that during his years as a transition student he said yes to every opportunity that came his way.

Sally Mann, transition teacher at CTP, sees a clear connection between the commitment McBurney showed as a transition student and the success he is experiencing 

“Sebastian joined the transition program during distance learning, which was challenging, but even then he was a good participant. Once we got to meet in person, he became even stronger in his participation. Since then, Sebastian has accomplished more than any student I have known at CTP. He’s willing to try things that are hard, and he’s open to asking for help with problem-solving when needed,” said Mann.

McBurney started building his resume by working at the CTP coffee cart and the high school catering class. That helped him find a position working at the concession stand for the Eugene Emeralds and University of Oregon baseball games, and at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant. Most recently, McBurney was hired for the job that fits his long-term goals: a courtesy clerk position at Albertsons grocery store. 

“I always liked Albertsons grocery store because the people are friendly. When they had a job fair I brought in my resume. We talked for a while during the interview and then they said ‘You’re hired!’ I like being a courtesy clerk because it’s always busy and I can talk with lots of different people,” said McBurney.


Setting life goals beyond finding employment

As much as McBurney enjoys his job, he keeps his focus on other life goals as well. He wants to live independently. For McBurney, that means being able to drive his own car and live in his own home.

His first step towards the goal of owning a car was to learn to drive. He enrolled in driver education classes that could be paid for through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). After attending twelve class sessions, he got to check that goal off his list: McBurney passed the test with a score of 97% and received his license.

Meanwhile, McBurney started planning for his own apartment. He saved every extra dollar—even the gift cards he received for attendance and participation at CTP—so he could eventually buy furnishings. As Mann explained, “Sebastian wanted to be ready when the opportunity came up to move into an apartment. He knew he could make it happen.”

In December of 2022, his family recognized that McBurney was ready to move into a more independent living situation. He now shares an apartment with his sister and a friend. The three roommates work different schedules, so they have plenty of privacy and space. The apartment is perfect for now, but McBurney has bigger dreams: he’d like to be a homeowner. And for that, he needed to find a better way to save money.


The ABLE account: a great way to save

“I’ve always been more of a saver than a spender,” said McBurney. But a person can only save up to two thousand dollars in their bank account without impacting social security benefits. With a car and a house in mind, McBurney wanted to save far more than that.

He worked with Mann and with Rhonda Tolleson, YTP Specialist, to set up an ABLE account. This type of savings account allows people with disabilities to save money without losing social security or Medicaid benefits. ABLE accounts can be set up as simple cash-only savings, or they can be investment accounts that grow through stocks and bonds 

ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, because the purpose of the account is to help pay for big goals like housing, education, and transportation. Families can set up ABLE accounts for their children with disabilities, or young adults with disabilities can set up ABLE accounts for themselves, with the help of VR or transition program specialists. These accounts make bigger dreams possible for transition students like McBurney.

“Sebastian is so driven to reach his goals. Setting up the ABLE account simply opened a way for him to make it happen. We’re all so impressed by his stick-to-it attitude, regardless of if he’s tired or not feeling well. He balances so much in his life, and he’s able to achieve all these dreams,” said Mann.

Future Educator Day

In early February, the CTE/STEM team hosted the inaugural Future Educator Day in partnership with Central Oregon Community College. Students from across the region joined to learn about the many opportunities in education through hands-on activities. In addition, a panel discussion provided opportunities for students to interact with the educators.

We had a variety of booths to display ways for students to engage in educational opportunities beyond the traditional K-12 setting with partners such as: Camp Tamarack, Pawsitive Choices, Boys and Girls Club, HDESD EI/ECSE, Central Oregon STEM Hub, and Neighborhood Impact. We had a teacher recognition booth for students to recognize the educators that have had a positive impact in their lives.

We appreciate the partnership with Amy Howell and Angie Cole from COCC, Joe Devine and team from HDESD, and Jenny Faircloth and the team with the Early Childhood program. For questions, contact Brook Rich at 

In early February, the CTE/STEM team hosted the inaugural Future Educator Day in partnership with Central Oregon Community College. Students from across the region joined to learn about the many opportunities in education through hands-on activities.

A panel discussion provided opportunities for students to interact with the educators. There were a variety of booths to display ways for students to engage in educational opportunities beyond the traditional K-12 setting with partners such as: Camp Tamarack, Pawsitive Choices, Boys and Girls Club, HDESD EI/ECSE, Central Oregon STEM Hub, and Neighborhood Impact. We had a teacher recognition booth for students to recognize the educators that have had a positive impact on their lives.

We appreciate the partnership with Amy Howell and Angie Cole from COCC, Joe Devine and the team from HDESD, and Jenny Faircloth and the team with the Early Childhood program. 

Living with autism in our own time and space

Photo: Leslie and Kap Seidel with their son Luke

Lucas Seidel is a social, sunny, cuddly 8-year-old kid who loves to be around people. With an early aptitude for technology, and a keen eye for photography, he solves tech challenges in the blink of an eye and has already accumulated a collection of gallery-worthy model train photography. And Luke has also taught his parents, Leslie and Kap, to slow down and see the world differently.

Luke is a child experiencing “Takiwatanga,” which is the Maori word for autism and it means “in their own time and space.” The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand (Aotearoa). In the United States, we use the phrase Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People experiencing ASD often have challenges with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They may also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention. Lucas, who is nonverbal, is thriving with the help of his loving and attentive parents and teachers, neurotypical peers, and a team of passionate educational specialists who are part of the High Desert Education Service District.

Processing an autism diagnosis

The Seidels moved from Northern California to Bend, Oregon in 2015. Luke was only 8 months old and was “a pretty chill kid” according to Leslie. By age 2, he was still not speaking, and a speech therapist suggested an assessment with the Alyce Hatch Center, one of HDESD’s Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education programs. As educators, specialists and experts began to explore Luke’s needs, Leslie and Kap stepped into a new world, full of challenges and discovery.

“At Alyce Hatch, they didn’t use the word autism right away. It felt like a safe place, a place where we could answer all our questions. I had a lot of resistance to diagnosis,” added Leslie, who has a background in psychology. “I didn’t want to pigeonhole my kid, so it was just scary, it was terrifying. And when you get a diagnosis of ASD, it doesn’t mean anything. Severity is super unclear, what’s going to happen is super unclear. When I am stressed, I ask a lot of questions. The more info the better and the Alyce Hatch Center team just held me honestly.”

Luke’s dad, Kap, had asked about autism early on, and Luke’s pediatrician was careful not to diagnose prematurely. Once a diagnosis was made, Kap took some time to process what autism was, and what it meant for Luke and their family.

“I think that when you have a child, you have all these expectations, desires, dreams and when you get this diagnosis, you have to mourn that. And that mourning process goes on and on. Not every day, but it hits you,” Leslie added.

According to Leslie, some people tend to view autism as something that’s wrong.  She also feels that there is a lot of misinformation about ASD floating around, including stereotypes.

“Alyce Hatch was such an honoring place when we were so terrified. We didn’t have to go anywhere else to find all of the resources we needed. The Alyce Hatch team showed me that Lucas is more capable than I ever thought he was going to be. They expected things from him, and he met their expectations. They supported us with speech therapists and occupational therapists and parent support groups. The list is endless. The biggest thing is, I could trust them. They let me be terrified and neurotic and follow the school bus. They were so kind and they understood,” said Leslie.

The autism learning curve

“At the very beginning I had a bunch of ideas about how you parent,” explained Kap. “I was raised with very clear rules and lots of discussion. I really liked how I was raised, and I am grateful for it, but I had to rewrite the entire parenting playbook for Luke. You have to be so much more mindful of how he moves through the world, how he interprets what you’re saying. It’s a kinder, softer, gentler way. We’ve discovered that supportive parenting with high expectations moves him more quickly towards the goals we set.” 

Leslie agrees that all of us can learn from loved ones who are experience autism and living in their own time and space.

“I had no idea about sensory needs until I learned what a sensory diet was,” she said. “Everyone has sensory needs; they just look different for each of us. If we all talked about it, that would be amazing. I’ve learned from Luke that I also need a certain amount of sleep, outside time, exercise and down time. It’s important to understand how we regulate.”

Leslie learned quickly to look at Luke when he is upset and think about what he needs to regulate. “When kids get upset – and all kids do – we have to understand the different knobs we can turn. Do they need more time outside, to eat, alone time, exercise, friendship?”

Another learning, Kap explained, was around sleep training.

For the Seidels, sleep training did not include allowing Luke to “cry it out” at bedtime. It was a long process that involved repeatedly coming into the room with Luke, then saying “I’ll be right back” and leaving for 10 seconds and coming back in.

“A big part of autism is that you don’t know what to expect from the world. That’s why routine is so important. Luke needs to know that we’re never going to abandon him and that we’ll always be there. Every child should be raised this way, with loving kindness.

As Luke continues to learn and grow on the spectrum, his parents do as well.

“When you first learn your kid has autism, everything feels like a mystery,” said Kap. “It was such a relief those first three years at Alyce Hatch. The constant response from the team was ‘We got this. We’ve been doing this a long time…we got this.’ That’s the thing I remember the most. He wouldn’t have the life that he has today without the early intervention that he received at Alyce Hatch and the foundation that they gave him. I absolutely love them. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Today, Luke is in the second grade with HDESD’s Bridges Program at Lava Ridge Elementary. According to Kap and Leslie, his team of educators continues to play a huge role in Luke’s success as he navigates the second grade. The caring and highly specialized Bridges staff provides Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) which includes intervention and therapy.

“His experience at Bridges, is invaluable in terms of an education, getting him on the right track and self-sufficiency. That’s the kind of community and culture at Lava Ridge,” added Kap.

Communicating on the spectrum

Because Luke is nonverbal, finding innovative ways to communicate has been an important piece of the puzzle for him, his family, his teachers and his peers.

“Speech is Luke’s second language,” said Leslie. “When a kid is learning to read, you find out they are reading because they repeat the words back to you. We didn’t know Luke was reading until we gave him a coloring book that had the names of the colors printed below the picture and he colored all the names with the right colors.”

With help from the Alyce Hatch Center and HDESD’s Assistive Technology Department, Luke now uses a “talker” to communicate with others. Also called an Augmentative and Alternative Communication device, a talker is a tablet or iPad used with an app that allows people to use letters, symbols and/or pictures to express themselves.

In addition to making communication more accessible, Luke’s talker highlighted his aptitude for technology when he figured out on his own how to change the settings so he could communicate in complete sentences instead of one word at a time.

Luke’s talker has become an integral part of his life and has followed him from preschool to primary school, where his team of educators embraces and supports his communication needs.

With help from Leslie and his general education teachers and staff at Lava Ridge, Luke’s neurotypical peers made replicas of Luke’s talker and learned how to use it. The activity gave the students a glimpse into Luke’s world and some of his unique challenges.

“The kids were so engaged and amazed at how hard it is to communicate without words, and I think the exercise was really meaningful to them and Luke too,” said Leslie.

Expression through touch, imagery and sound

Contrary to some of the stereotypes surrounding autism, Luke likes physical contact and wants people around him all of the time. He wants connection, he likes to be held and always wants to play. He is also incredibly creative, using still photography, video and audio to document his world and share his observations.

“Luke finds every hidden wink and nod in every Pixar movie, including the Pizza Planet truck that shows up infrequently and randomly. Luke can spot this 5 second image everywhere,” said Leslie.

His large collection of digital model train photos also highlights his unique eye for composition and perspective.

“Everyone who spends time with Luke understands there is so much intelligence in him,” said Kap.

Challenges, fears and hopes for an independent future

One of the bigger challenges of experiencing autism as a family, explained Leslie, is judgment from others. Once during a Costco visit, Luke became upset when she told him he couldn’t have a cookie.

“A woman came up to me and said it’s so brave that I bring my son into Costco,” Leslie shared with frustration. “There’s just a difference between a child being spoiled and having a sensory overload. Sometimes I feel like people think I’m being a bad parent because they simply don’t understand.”

Because of the early intervention and education resources available to Luke, Leslie and Kap are cautiously optimistic about his future. At the same time, they carry some significant concerns.

“I have a lot of fear about his future. My biggest, dreaded fear is for when Leslie and I pass. Who is going to love him like we do?” said Kap. “Our dream is that he will bring his creativity into the world and find something that’s going to be fulfilling and interesting.”

Advice for other parents navigating an ASD diagnosis

When asked what he would say to other families navigating an ASD diagnosis, Kap said “This is going to be really, really hard, but we’re all in this together and when you are really having a hard time, know that we’ve all had that hard time. We’re always learning and we’re all human. There will be moments when we wish we could have done better. But we have to constantly take a step back, see the whole picture and recognize the difficulty of certain situations. We have to treat our kids with exceptional love and kindness, and we have to do that for ourselves as well.”

Keeping Creative Dreams Alive, with Javeonte McIver

A SIP Grant recipient learns to pivot

 Ever since he was a kid, Javeonte McIver has been creating costumes.

He started with superhero capes and ninja outfits. That meant teaching himself to sew and piece the parts together. While in high school, he took every art class available. Outside of the classroom, he watched videos on costume making techniques and practiced making more complicated designs. Now at age 19, McIver’s passion for costume design is stronger than ever and he’s looking for ways to turn his art into a career.

McIver is enrolled in the community transition program of Portland Public Schools. As a transition student, he’s been working with Trisha Rhoades, Vocational Transition Specialist, to find work experiences that match his skills and interests. Last spring, Rhoades helped McIver apply for the Student Internship Program (SIP) Grant that would cover forty hours of a paid internship. When his application was accepted, McIver and Rhoades were both excited at the possibilities.


SIP grants for transition students

The Student Internship Program began as a pilot in 2022 at the Oregon State Transition Conference. The goal of SIP is to support students as they gain employment skills in their areas of interest, and to foster partnerships between schools and their community. The first grants went to students around the state, in the Suislaw, La Grande, Centennial and Portland school districts.

The grant offers students an hourly wage of $14.75 for forty hours at their internship. As Rhoades explained, this payment makes the internships doubly valuable for students.

“Transition student work experiences are often set up as volunteer opportunities. When they do the same work as paid employees, that’s not equitable. But when our students are paid, they realize their work is worth the same as their peers. That’s a confidence booster and very motivating. We would love to grow the program and offer this to all our student interns who are out working in the community,” said Rhoades.

As the pilot year for the SIP grant program comes to a close, program coordinators Kriss Rita and Josh Barbour will begin planning for the next grant cycle. They’ll share the successes and challenges experienced at the 2023 Oregon Statewide Transition Conference. Their session will include information on applying for 2023-24 SIP grants.


Connecting to the arts community

Inspired by McIver’s talent, Rhoades began reaching out to the art community in the Portland area to create connections for work experiences for transition students.

“Javeonte is naturally creative and it’s been an honor to witness how he’s developed his skills over the past year. His dreams of working in the arts have challenged me to be a better vocational specialist and find ways to engage with those who can help make his dreams come true,” said Rhoades.

In his SIP application, McIver had to outline his strengths, preferences, interests and needs. For example, he knows that he is a good listener, he is interested in fashion and film making, he prefers a creative environment, and as a kinesthetic learner he needs to move as he works. Those qualities made him a perfect fit for an internship with Outside the Frame, a Portland organization.

Outside the Frame offers filmmaking workshops for marginalized young people who are experiencing disabilities, unstable housing, or other challenges. Learning the fundamentals of storytelling and film production gives them more than a creative outlet to share their stories—they gain communication and employment skills as well.

McIver received the SIP grant for an internship with Outside the Frame, but they ran into a scheduling roadblock. Outside the Frame operates outside of school hours, which didn’t work for McIver. He was disappointed, but he didn’t give up.


Changing plans, but not changing the dream

McIver could not use the SIP grant for a paid internship with Outside the Frame, so he and Rhoades brainstormed a new plan. They talked about other businesses that would interest McIver and decided to shift the internship to KingPins bowling and arcade.

 Even though the work was not in art or design, McIver found value in what he learned during his internship. “I like helping people, and I like the people I worked with there. Also, I learned to stay focused and to be patient,” he said. He agrees those lessons will help him succeed in any kind of job, whether or not they are in the area of costume design.

Working with Outside the Frame is one of his long-term goals, and Rhoades is helping to make that happen. From there, he hopes to get involved with a design studio. In the meantime, McIver designs and creates costumes outside of the transition program. These days, his favorite project is a neon green and black Spider-Jay suit with a mask that has spider eye lenses. He’s also building connections with theater, film, and cosplay communities.

Most of all, McIver believes in sticking to his artistic practice. That persistence shows up in his advice for other young artists: “Keep on doing whatever it is that you do best. If you do that your dreams will rise up.”

 For more information about SIP grants, contact Josh Barbour and/or Kriss Rita, Transition Network Facilitators

How Adler Utzman started strong in the transition program

MAPS Planning to Honor a Student’s Strengths

When Adler Utzman enrolled in the transition co-op in Bend last September, his family wanted to help him hit the ground running.

Adler’s mother, Stephanie Utzman, was searching for a way to make his entry into the transition co-op smooth and efficient. Adler was 19 at the time, and students can only participate in transition programs until they turn 21. How could he make the most of this time?

“Adler had just two years in transition to learn as much as possible about employment, independent living and being an adult. I wanted to help him get the ball rolling through some form of person-centered planning,” said Stephanie.

The teachers at Bend’s transition co-op connected the Utzmans to Sue Hayes, who leads the MAPS and PATH planning team at the High Desert Education Service District (HDESD). PATH planning helps students define the steps needed to reach a goal and helps set up a timeline. MAPS planning has a different focus. The goal is to recognize a student’s strengths and gifts by gathering all the people who work closely with the student and sharing their stories. 

Hayes recommended MAPS planning for Adler, and the Utzmans agreed it sounded like a useful tool. By the end of the MAPS process, Adler and his family had gained far more than they expected.  



The MAPS planning diagram


MAPS uses a visual diagram to tell the story of one individual—often a student or young adult with disabilities. To fill in the MAPS diagram, all the key people in this person’s network come together. The group can include family, teachers, therapists, caregivers, neighbors and friends. They each share positive stories about their experiences with the student to fill in the MAPS diagram. 

Hayes guided the conversation, asking each person to talk about what they enjoy about working with Adler, the things they know he likes or dislikes, how they engage with him, and what kind of activities work well. Along the way, they shine a light on the student’s dreams, and their nightmares, too. Each participant gains a deeper understanding of the whole person. The final document created can be used to clarify future plans and develop new opportunities for the student.

“This planning gave us a way to celebrate Adler’s gifts. It lets us understand what is helpful for him and what to avoid. MAPS is a celebratory process, coming together to share experiences, the positive ones and the heartaches too. We don’t often make time to share positive stories, but these are so important. This is how we help students use their strengths and be part of a community,” said Hayes.



Adler had a person-centered plan done before he entered high school. As Stephanie explained, that plan helped to guide his education, support services, activities and sports during his high school years. But as a young adult starting the transition program, he has different interests and abilities.

For Adler, just having all his favorite people together made the gathering special. Because he is non-verbal, his body language and affect often communicate his feelings. “He is an incredibly social young man and greeted each person in his own way. He was keyed up by the positive energy in the room—he knew this was all about him,” said Stephanie.

As a parent, Stephanie appreciated the opportunity to listen to positive stories about her child. “So often parents only hear about the problems. For us, it was touching and meaningful to have the focus be on the wonderful parts of Adler,” said Stephanie.

The final document will serve as a map for Adler’s support circle. His new teachers at the transition co-op will use it to shape how he is supported at school. Future care providers can use the map to get to know Adler and better understand his needs. And his family will rely on it too as they help him take steps toward independent living.

“The MAPS planning showed me that Adler has so much more ability and potential to be independent than we realized. This experience was impactful for all of us, in different ways. I think it will make a huge difference as we plan for A’s future,” said Stephanie.

Transition students interested in MAPS or PATH planning should talk with their transition teacher to learn more about the process.

Meet HDESD board member Anthony Georger

Appointed in 2022 to represent the local business community, Anthony Georger is the controller and vice president of finance for Seran Bioscience. He brings more than 15 years of accounting and finance experience, specializing in aerospace, agricultural and media industries. He moved from New England to Central Oregon with his wife and three children in 2020, and has been actively engaged and interested in the local education system.

We asked Anthony about his new role and here’s what he had to say…

What inspired you to explore a board seat with HDESD?

I was inspired to explore joining the HDESD board by the kind words and praise I heard for the HDESD from volunteer colleagues with the United Way of Central Oregon and EDCO.  

 What are you most looking forward to in your role as a board member?

I am looking forward to using my financial background and experience to help the board make resource allocation choices.  I am also excited to learn about all of the programs HDESD has to offer, providing any help where possible to further publicize these programs for the betterment of the local community.

What do you believe are the greatest challenges we face as an ESD moving forward?

As we are at the end of most COVID-era fiscal spending, I think the HDESD will be challenged to continue to provide top-level programs for a fast-growing local community in a more restrictive fiscal environment.  I believe it will be achievable to provide excellence with tighter budgets, but it will take careful thought and planning.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am honored to have been chosen to serve on the HDESD school board. I am learning about all of the programs the HDESD provides to our local community, and look forward to working as a champion for the HDESD within other local organizations. 

Success story: A Seamless Transition Success Story, with Tyler Saejow

Seeing what’s possible after graduation 

When Tyler Saejow was a student at the Centennial Transition Center (CTC) in East Portland, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold for him. He never imagined that five years after graduating from the CTC he would have the full, busy life he now leads. 

Saejow graduated from CTC in 2017. Since that time, he has moved out of his family home into a nearby apartment, which he shares with a roommate. He rides public transportation to get around town, including to his job at Target. And, he stays connected to family, friends, and to his past CTC teachers. 

How did all the pieces come together for Saejow? Looking back, he sees that his experiences at the CTC laid the foundation for his success. 


The timeline from student to employee 

Saejow was part of a CTC pilot project that aimed to help students shift from school to work as seamlessly as possible. Sarah Statham, who worked with Saejow at the CTC and now serves as the transition network facilitator, explained the goal of the project.   

“Before students graduate, we take them through the job discovery process. We get them connected to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and to job coaches. Students are set up for supported employment before they exit the public school system,” she said. 

Deven Kautza, CTC teacher, agrees. “When we work collaboratively, our students engage with the network of people that will stay with them beyond school. They are already familiar with the support systems as they start their jobs, and that feels good.” 

A seamless transition includes more than work experiences. Learning to get around town matters too! As a student, Saejow practiced using public transportation with his teacher and classmates. He became comfortable with figuring out the routes and time schedules. Now he rides the TriMet buses and MAX light rail trains wherever he needs to go.   

Saejow also remembers exploring different workplaces while at CTC, with a job coach from Dirkes Counseling & Consulting. They checked out a position in the kitchen at IKEA, which was not the kind of work he wanted. They looked at jobs at the MODA center, which felt too big and crowded. And then they talked with the supervisors at Target, who made Saejow feel welcome and supported. 

He began working at Target while still a CTC student. In fact, he had to ask for the day off in order to attend his CTC graduation ceremony—a memory that makes both Saejow and Statham smile. 

“The people there were so nice. They are the part of my job that I like the best,” said Saejow. He also likes that his days are active and he gets to move a lot, as he collects and arranges the shopping carts outside and inside the store. This year, Saejow is also learning cashier and checkout duties, and helps with the self-checkout station. 


When students succeed, teachers succeed 

The teachers at CTC stay in touch with students after graduation, to follow up and see where their lives are taking them. Saejow stays in contact too, and even comes back to the classroom occasionally to volunteer. 

Statham and Kautza appreciate staying connected to Saejow. As Statham explained, teachers don’t often have the chance to see their students thriving after they graduate. 

“We’re in the trenches creating lessons and instruction for our current classes. We rarely look up to take in the results of all that work. When you run into a past student and see they are leading a good life and are part of a community, it feels so good because that is exactly what we want for each of them. Successes like Tyler’s remind us that we’re on the right track,” said Statham. 

Saejow agrees that the work he put into his transition program put him on the right track. He plans to stay on that track: working at Target and staying in close touch with his friends, former teachers, and his family.