Students of NMUSD’s adult transition program take giant ‘STEP’ toward their futures

Graduate Natalie Devlin strikes a pose Thursday at Newport-Mesa Unified's STEP program graduation in Costa Mesa.
Graduate Natalie Devlin strikes a pose Thursday at Newport-Mesa Unified’s STEP program graduation at the Harper Assessment Center in Costa Mesa. Devlin described herself as “friendly, funny and festive.”
(James Carbone)

Graduations are not merely for the high school crowd — the ceremonies are intended to celebrate any number of achievements as students matriculate from one phase of learning to the next.

Such is the case for students enrolled in STEP, an adult transition program that supports Newport-Mesa Unified School District students with special needs through age 22 by preparing them for jobs and the daily tasks associated with an independent lifestyle.

Educators on Thursday celebrated the individual accomplishments of nine graduates who’ve successfully completed the rigors of the coursework and are ready to go out into the world with the skills they’ve learned.

NMUSD special education coordinator Kim Doyle speaks Thursday at a STEP graduation ceremony in Costa Mesa, June 2, 2022.
NMUSD special education coordinator Kim Doyle, right, welcomes guests and staff Thursday during a graduation ceremony for STEP, the district’s adult transition program.
(James Carbone)

Special education coordinator Kim Doyle said STEP ( Seamless Transition Enrichment Program) meets students where they’re at, which can range from someone needing assistance with mobility issues to someone looking for help enrolling in community college.

“We are looking to improve their overall quality of life after they leave us by building independent skills, so they can access as much of their community as they can,” Doyle said in an interview Wednesday.

Graduate Spencer Brown poses with his diploma at NMUSD's STEP graduation ceremony in Costa Mesa on Thursday.
Graduate Spencer Brown, who said his favorite thing to do is hang out with his grandpa, poses with his diploma Thursday during the Newport-Mesa Unified’s STEP ceremony in Costa Mesa.
(James Carbone)

Thursday’s commencement ceremony on the grounds of NMUSD’s Harper Assessment Center was smaller and more personal than most high school graduations and a time for students to celebrate with their friends and family members an important rite of passage.

Students wore graduation leis made of candy and colorful flowers to the outdoor event and showed off their certificates or posed with friends and families by graduation-themed balloons after they’d formally matriculated.

“This is their ceremony and celebration with family and friends,” Doyle said, equating the event to a college graduation, the final school function before true adulthood descends. “They’re getting to have that same experience as other 22-year-olds. It may be a different education, but they worked really hard.”

Cristian Salazar celebrates Thursday graduating from Newport-Mesa Unified's STEP program during a ceremony in Costa Mesa.
Cristian Salazar celebrates Thursday graduating from Newport-Mesa Unified’s STEP program, which aims to prepare adult students with special needs to live and work as independently as possible.
(James Carbone)

Some graduates will continue their studies, while others leave for jobs and work experiences they were introduced to through the STEP program. While many will continue to be served as adults through various Regional Centers, they will have learned skills designed to last them a lifetime.

“It’s an exciting time for them — we’re super proud,” Doyle said.

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