How The O-School Empowers Non-Traditional Students

The O-School’s executive director explains how their Transition Learning Center helps non-traditional students meet their post-high school goals.

Navigating the world beyond high school can be a difficult challenge, especially for non-traditional students who might not fit the conventional academic mold. At the O-School’s Transition Learning Center (TLC), a unique program is changing lives by bridging the gap between high school completion and post-secondary success. 

Diana Kon, the executive director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, known as the O-School, says that their TLC program is transformational. “We help build a personalized, flexible program that will take them where they want to go.”

Real-world skills and independence

The TLC caters to students aged 17-21 who have, or have nearly, completed their high school academics but are not yet ready to take the next steps independently. “Our students have aspirations beyond high school but need more time, preparation and skill development to achieve their goals,” Kon explains. The program’s design is highly customized, focusing on individual needs, such as deferring college for a year to learn life skills like money management and independence, she says. The program also helps students navigate social interactions in work and college settings.

One of the most distinctive features of the TLC is its community-based approach. “We get our students out in the community as much as possible, supporting them through internships, college classes and daily activities like shopping and cooking their own meals,” says Kon. 

This not only enhances their practical skills but also builds their confidence and social capabilities, Kon notes. “The transition coaches play an important role, accompanying students in various external environments, from navigating transport like Uber or the train, to securing part-time jobs. Our coaching provides in-the-moment guidance and support.” 

Comprehensive support system at the O-School Transition Learning Center

Beyond practical skills, the TLC’s comprehensive support system is life-changing for families. Students benefit from psychiatric care, individual therapy, speech and occupational therapy and family therapy — all under one roof. “We aim to consolidate services so that parents can step back from being the constant ‘quarterbacks’ or coordinators of their child’s care, allowing them to just be parents.”

The program’s therapeutic milieu model is central to its success. Relationships are leveraged as the vehicle for growth and change. “We operate on a model where everyone is included in the process, helping students build the foundational skills they need to be successful in the world,” Kon notes.

Academically, the TLC is equally robust, providing support that allows students to tackle college-level coursework while still receiving the tailored guidance they need. This could mean assistance with organizing assignments, understanding professors’ expectations, or managing deadlines — critical skills for college and beyond.

Community of support and inspiration

The social and emotional growth witnessed at the TLC is profound, says Kon. “Students often enter the program with significant challenges, including anxiety or depression or challenges related to autism spectrum disorders. Yet, through intensive supports, our TLC students position themselves to succeed in their chosen college programs, often gaining admission to their first-choice schools.”

Perhaps most inspiring is the culture of community at the O-School. “Our students lift each other up — they share their struggles and triumphs, standing as examples to one another,” Kon says. In addition, each student’s journey is celebrated with individual graduation ceremonies where they share their stories, inspiring peers and families alike.

Kon’s message to parents considering the TLC is one of hope and reassurance: “Ultimately, we help students master important tasks, establish internal structure, and navigate difficult relationships, empowering them to overcome obstacles that previously seemed insurmountable as they launch into adulthood.”

For more information on the O-School visit o.school.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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