After putting in hard work preparing for future careers, seven students will graduate from the Mahtomedi Public Schools Passages Transition Program June 5.

The program, in its third year, offers students through age 21 with an individualized education plan (IEP) the opportunity to continue to learn and prepare for their future. Many Passages students have the academic credits to graduate but need further assistance with employment, post-secondary and independent living skills. Students graduate when they meet their individual goals. Currently, there are 20 students in the program.

“At Passages we focus on the transitional needs of the students,” teacher Jodie Tester told the Mahtomedi School Board at a May 23 meeting.

A focus of the program is to prepare students for what they want to do once they graduate. Students participate in volunteer or paid work experiences or take post-secondary enrollment option or technical school classes. This year’s students went on 15 business tours in the community, said teacher Erin Schnyders. They held a Reverse Job Fair where students had their own booth and showcased their career skills to community members. “It was a great networking event,” Schnyders noted. Dressed in professional attire, students also participated in mock interviews at businesses.

Student Matt Bjork, who will graduate this June, had the opportunity to job shadow a radio announcer at KFAN. “The teachers, job coaches and staff there have been very supportive,” said his mom, Lynn Bjork. “They go above and beyond to help the kids dream big and reach their goals.”

Another focus of the program is developing independent living skills. In addition to future school and work goals, students learn about financial literacy, cooking, cleaning, healthy habits and social skills. Students also learned about their own disabilities and gave presentations to fellow classmates, Schnyders said. Students led weekly community meetings and learned how to lead their own IEP meetings. The leadership development gives students confidence in what they have to offer.

Schnyders cited a student who led her own end-of-the-year meeting complete with a PowerPoint presentation that described what she is good at, what she wants to do in the future and what help she needs with accomplishing her goals.

“We need to listen to the voice of our students,” Tester said. “I don't care what their disability is. They have a voice.”

Students have individual goals and unique schedules but work together to reach them, she noted. “We work on an individual basis, everybody has their own individual need, but we don't separate out,” she noted. “That is very unique and something to be very proud of.”

Off to college after Passages, apple farm experiences Student Blake Roettger walked with his twin sister in their 2017 high school graduation but now he will have a unique graduation of his own. After two years in the program, he is heading to college this fall, said his mom Lori Roettger.

“Blake has made great strides towards independent living skills and employment at Passages,” she noted. “His confidence in the workplace has soared with two successful temporary jobs at Goodwill and Pine Tree Apple Orchard. In fact, he excelled so much at Pine Tree that he was hired back for the second season on his own, without the help of the job coach from Passages.”

Blake sorted apples, stocked shelves and drove people to the pumpkin patch. Roettger said she was grateful to the Jacobson family for hiring him. “I'm not sure if I would have envisioned him to go out and handle a job like that,” she said. “They just wrapped their arms around Blake and took him under their wing.”

After two years at Passages, he is ready to attend the University of Iowa's REACH program. “Blake is a sharp kid; he is ready to move on,” Roettger said. “He will live on campus in a dorm and be totally integrated into Big 10 experience.” He will continue with instruction to prepare him for finding work after college. She credits the Passages program for preparing him for this.

“With these experiences and many more, the staff at Passages has done an outstanding job in building his confidence, continuing his education and preparing him for the next step,” Roettger noted. “We will be forever grateful to Passages and the community that gave our son a hand up after high school.”

100% 7-year graduation rate

The Passages program helps the district achieve a high seven-year graduation rate: nearly 100% (99.6%), according to district Communications Specialist Alice Seuffert. Watertown-Mayer, Orono, Wayzata and Minnetonka were named the top 2018 graduating districts with about a 97 percent four-year graduation rate but their seven-year graduation rates are between 96 and 98 percent, several percentage points lower than Mahtomedi's, according to Minnesota Department of Education 2018 Graduation Indicators and 2018 District Report Cards. Mahtomedi's 2018 four-year graduation rate was 93 percent.

“We recognize that not all students graduate in the same way and in the same time frame, so it is important for us to focus beyond the four-year graduation rate data,” Seuffert noted. “Our four-, five-, six- and seven-year graduation rate shows that Passages makes a significant impact on our students and helps them achieve graduation.”

The Passages program is located in the Mahtomedi mall on Century Avenue; it is purposely located away from the high school so it feels like a next step for students, Seuffert explained.

The program is looking for more businesses to partner in hiring, volunteering, skills training, interviews and student job fairs. For more information, contact Jenna Vennis, work coordinator at or 651-773-4861.

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