On a recent afternoon, the sparkling new Pathways building was bustling with activity. Students chatted as they looked up from their books and teachers moved from one room to the next as they surveyed the scene.
Located on the Northwood Elementary School site at 4030 86th Ave. SE, the building was specially designed for adult students with disabilities so they can learn independent living and job skills, according to the Mercer Island School District (MISD).
Dr. Sue Ann Bube, director for MISD Special Services, said the Adult Transition Program received its name because students have three pathways to traverse when they finish school: independent living, post-secondary education such as college or on-the-job training, and employment.
Pathways welcomes students ages 18-21 and they can remain with the program for three years or until they’re ready to move on, Bube said. Presently, there are 10 students at Pathways, which held an open house for parents on Nov. 24. Five days later, students and teachers had their first full day in the building, which has front windows that provide a view of the Mercer Island High School sports stadium.
When Northwood Elementary was built, the district had the capacity to expand on the site. Electrical wiring and plumbing were already completed in advance on the area where the new Pathways building now stands.
The cost of the building was $2.1 million with the funds coming from the district’s six-year capital projects levy. The Pathways portion of the building is 1,900 square feet, and an additional 2,400 square feet on the other side is being used for Northwood’s before- and after-school programs.
Bube said everyone is thrilled to be inside the building, which is completely ADA-accessible, from the design to the cabinets, counter tops and appliances. The building features a working kitchen, lockers, laundry facilities and more.
MISD Superintendent Donna Colosky and Bube envisioned a space for Pathways students to be built and designed for them and adult transition learning.
“No one is prouder than I of the new building. It really meets that value that we have of inclusive and equitable learning settings for all students, including, of course, our adult transition, which is our Pathways students,” Colosky said.
Previously, the program was housed in a classroom without all of the amenities that are showcased in the new building, Bube said. Colosky, who has experience in facilities and adult transition programs, said one of her projects when she first came to the district was to meet the needs of their students. Another plus of the new facility is that it’s near public transportation, which is part of the students’ life skills training, Colosky added.
Student Joe McSwiney, 19, said that things have been going well for him at Pathways. He currently cashiers, stocks and prices items and organizes the DVDs and CDs at the Mercer Island Thrift Shop.
“The reason why I came to Pathways is I want to make it to OLS (occupational life skills at) Bellevue College. I’ve been practicing a lot and I’ve been doing a lot of reading, writing essays and a lot of math. I’ve also been doing some job experiences,” said McSwiney, who hopes to acquire a job at QFC.
Pathways teacher Karin Shelton said they’re thankful for the community job partners who have given the students the opportunities to learn skills. Along with the thrift shop, current partners include Walgreens and Aegis Living, and students have landed jobs at Metropolitan Market, QFC, Early World Montessori and other businesses.
Shelton finds fulfillment in her involvement with Pathways, which she said is a bridge from school to paid employment for their students. Bube said the program is also a bridge to connect students to the rest of their lives and for their parents to collect the information they need when the students turn 21.
Bube worked as the transition director for Washington for several years during the state’s push to make sure that all school districts helped young adults with disabilities attend college or gain employment, she said.
“I’m proud of the district for supporting this and I’m thankful to all the parents who have been patient, as we have been working to build this facility to give their students a real place to learn these skills,” Bube said.