It was a Wednesday morning and Siddharth Srinivasan was strategically wiping tables at Chick-fil-A.
The 19-year-old Kirkland Transition Academy student comes into Chick-fil-A twice a week for an hour to develop his working skills and build his resume. With the help and direction of his academy teacher, Srinivasan wipes tables and windows, sweeps and restocks condiments.
Lake Washington School District’s (LWSD) Transition Academy is a community-based academy for young adults (ages 18-21) with developmental disabilities. The academy’s focus is to prepare students like Srinivasan for work and life in the community after their graduation from the academy. Unlike traditional classrooms, the academy is a base for “real classrooms,” which are a wide variety of settings in the greater Kirkland-Redmond-Bellevue communities, according to its website. The curriculum consists of “typical” activities that occur in these “typical” settings.
Since 2004, the Transition Academy has served young adults with developmental disabilities on the Eastside. That September, the academy opened its first location in Redmond with 12 students and three staff. As the academy matured and grew in size over the years, LWSD opened a second location in Kirkland. The Kirkland Transition Academy opened its doors to eight students and four staff in January 2017. Just last fall, the academy relocated to 11415 NE 128th St, #10 in Kirkland.
“We’re very proud of what we have,” Kirkland Transition Academy lead teacher Mark Tornquist said. “There’s a difference between the two [academies]. It’s the amount of independence the individual can achieve during their time with us. We have higher support needs here such as individuals in wheel chairs, communication needs and physical needs.”
The academy works with King County’s School-to-Work (S2W) program to help students find jobs where their skills can be used and valued. S2W connects them with a job coach, their school, parents, the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), and others to help them find a job before they leave school.
According to the King County Developmental Disabilities Transition Initiative External Evaluation Report, for students and families who enrolled in the S2W program, employment outcomes were much higher. The report states that in 2012, 65 percent of the students were employed among exiting the program. In 2014, the percentage raised up to 66 percent and back down in 2014 with a total of 64 percent students exiting the program with a job. This means King County’s S2W has improved the percentage of students exiting school with jobs and increased significantly the number of and percentage of students served.
The academy currently has 17 students. Their day starts at around 8:15 a.m., Monday through Thursday. Since their curriculum consists of “typical” activities at “typical” settings, the students, teachers, and para educators take the students to their specific work sites for volunteer wok. The work sites vary anywhere from retail businesses, non-profit organizations, senior centers, to the food industry. The students preform tasks that strengthen their skills and builds their resume. Tasks include wiping tables, sweeping, organizing, vacuuming, recycling, and more.
“There’s a great benefit and value of having these individuals in the community because they are part of the community,” Tornquist said.
For the academy, it is important to partner with the community. Recently, it has partnered with Chick-fil-A in Totem Lake. The restaurant is the first for-profit organization to partner with the academy.
“It’s important that we got a for-profit business,” teacher Michael Dwyer said. “It’s tough getting people to let you in. Chick-fil-A is the first for-profit we’ve had…it’s super important, super awesome and ground breaking.”
Derek Schiefer, franchise owner at Chick-fil-A said it was a perfect fit. When Dwyer reached out to them, he said it made sense for their business.
“For us, cleaning the dining room at a slow part of the day is just perfect,” Shiefer said. “It allows [students] the opportunity to come in and have that routine, get some things done, and add value for us and it also gives the students something to work towards.”
Schiefer said the restaurant holds surveys on all their receipts and many receipts have come back with positive feedback, praising the academy students. The regulars know the students and overall, the response has been positive.
“It’s great to give purpose to other people,” he said. “One of our visions here is to be a place where people want to be and we thought that this program with the district was exactly feeding into that vision.”
LWSD communication manager Collin Sullivan said that this partnership allowed him to see the district’s value in action, every student future ready.
“This is everything we could want as a district, so it really is perfect,” Sullivan said. “These are the partnerships that we look for because I think it puts these kids in a good path…We want to work with the community and we want to partner with businesses. I think it works for everybody. It’s a win-win.”
If businesses are interested in partnering with the Kirkland Transition Academy, they can find more information at https://tak.lwsd.org/.