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Linn-Mar’s Success Center Committed to Achieving Independence

Success Center Students pose with Chili Cook Off Awards.

Mr. Smith’s team proudly displays their awards. The team won the Community Choice Award and 2nd place overall.

The transition from high school to the workforce or secondary education is a big step in life for all students.

For students enrolled in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), they may not be ready to make that transition yet.

That’s where the Linn-Mar Success Center comes in. According to Christine McSweeney, director of off-site programming, “the center is a 12-plus program for students who have already gone through four years of high school and range in age from 18-21.” The goal of the center is to assist students who still have skill deficits in areas like independent living, jobs skills and functional academics. “These are real life skills you would need to understand while out in the community, such as reading signs, menus and bus schedules,” she said.

People sample chili during a chili cook off

Students from the Success Center serve their entry during the center’s 2nd Annual Chili Cook Off.

“The center serves as a bridge between high school and independent living for students that need a little more support,” McSweeney said, “We want to help them be as independent and confident as possible.”

One important facet of the center is providing work experience for the students. Although the experience is unpaid, it provides valuable knowledge by focusing on key areas of maintaining a job.

“They work on the skills needed to work with a boss, follow directions, be self-starters, and get to work independently and on time every day,” McSweeney added. “We assist them and focus on the areas needed to hold and maintain a job.” The center does this in a supportive setting where there is room to make mistakes, and not have a devastating impact on the students when mistakes are made.

“Traditional students may leave high school, make those mistakes and lose their job,” she added. “At the Success Center, we help them learn from their mistakes and become comfortable with valuable life lessons.”

The center also focuses on teaching independent-living skills. These skills include going to the grocery store. “They come up with what they want to eat for the day, create a grocery list, and go to the store,” McSweeney added. After the groceries are purchased, the students return to the center to make lunch for the whole group. “This is done so they learn how to make a meal for a family so-to-speak.”

Other independent living skills the students learned include how to do chores around the house. At the center, there are restrooms they learn to clean and maintain and a bedroom area where they make the bed, do laundry, fold cloths, and learn how to put them away.

Success Center Wake Up Marion Event - Community members holding conversations

Success Center staff and students engage in conversation with members of the community during a recent Marion Chamber of Commerce Wake-Up Marion event.

McSweeney said that “in addition to the independent skills the students learn, there’s time spent in class where they work on social and job skills such as communication – the soft skills needed when working a job.”

The center is currently in its thirteenth year. “The school district had identified that some specialized students who weren’t necessarily college bound, needed a little extra support from the community to be successful,” she added. The program started in the Learning Resource Center with one teacher and one student working on that transition from high school to post-secondary (school, work or training through specialized organizations). As needs increased, the center developed into what it is today. To date, more than 60 students have gone through the program.

“The center is in a great location and partners with several businesses like food service, retail, and local hospitals,” said McSweeney. “There are a lot of volunteer opportunities at places in town for them to work.” The students also gain experience working at a convenience store and bank. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide different experiences and to match the student’s,” she added.  “The work provides them with a sense of pride and ownership in having a job, and in being part the community.”

McSweeney added that while the center’s primary goal is to provide independence for their students, it is also to educate the community that there is a workforce that can be tapped into. “We really strive for independence and love to show off our students.”

The students at the center are “the best workers in the world,” she stated, “they love having a job and interacting with the community and other adults.”

Student discusses job responsibilities with a visitor at an open house

A Success Center student discusses his job responsibilities at an Open House held at the Success Center

The students’ exit from the program depends on their progress. Some stay six months, while some stay one to two years.

As the site director, McSweeney oversees the center’s lead teacher and three program associates. The school day is Monday-Friday with every other Friday off to allow for preparation time and professional development.

Today, the center has six students and has had as many as 12. “It’s a fun place to visit,” said McSweeney, “There is so much growth from when a student comes in to when they exit. There is so much confidence that is developed and it is all from the experience and skills they learn from the Success Center.”