A change from one stage to another is considered a transition.

When it comes to the youth of Lawrence County, there are several organizations that make transitioning a smooth accomplishment, whether it be with pre-schoolers, teens or ages in between.

Programs that are enhancements help families prepare for various scenarios and encounters outside the classroom. And they start at a young age.

Darlene Sansone, family strength coordinator at the Penn State Extension office, said her role is primarily to train people who work in child care or daycare centers.

“It’s preparation going from those places into kindergarten,” Sansone said. “We’re providing teachers with the training and doing parenting classes through the court system.”

However, parents with limited income are also eligible to enroll in parenting classes, she said, adding that subjects addressed include child development, communication, discipline and asset building.

A HAND UP

Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV provides assistance to youth with programs for special education, teen parenting and the homeless.

Richael Ferdig, superintendent of special education, works with the transition from early childhood into school age and secondary transition from school into adult life.

“We take students age 16 and up out into the community and partner with employees who provide job training so the students can hopefully be employed at that place of work,” Ferdig said, adding her agency partners with 27 school districts in Lawrence, Mercer and Butler counties and the services provided allow students to be better prepared for challenges of the adult world.

That extends to teens who are about to become parents.

Juliann Mangino oversees the teen parenting program for the IUIV. Mangino, who is a Lawrence County ELECT — Education Leading to Employment and Career Training — counselor, said her role is to advise students in various areas.

“Even if they’re pregnant, they remain in school and that’s the goal,” she said, citing an 8 percent drop in teen pregnancies from 2014-15, as reported by the state. “We provide academic support, parenting education and help with post-secondary planning whether it be the work force, a community college or a four-year college.”

Mangino, who meets with parents-to-be one on one and again in a small group setting, said they talk about labor and delivery, having a healthy baby and safety. The IUIV also networks with other agencies such as Penn State Extension and Lawrence County Community Action Partnership for transitioning purposes, she said.

“We are wanting success. We still believe in giving you a hand up, not a handout."

And she is pleased with the outcomes.

“We’re proud of our graduate rate — 98 percent — in all three counties.”

At the agency, Wendy Kinnear is the regional coordinator for Pennsylvania's Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program. Kinnear, who works with 69 school districts in 10 counties, said every school district has a homeless liaison administered by the state Department of Education.

“There is no district not touched by homelessness,” she said, adding that, “We could have families making six figures or living in housing projects but as long as someone says, ‘Tonight I don’t know where I’m going to sleep,’ by definition, that person is homeless.”

She added that anyone staying in a shelter, tent, barn, shack or a place one wouldn’t ordinarily live, or “couch surfing” from one place to another is homeless.

Data from 2015-16 identified 2,798 youth in Lawrence County as homeless and 16 percent of that number was unaccompanied youth, Kinnear said. Statewide, 27,000 were identified as homeless, and she expects those numbers to increase when the 2016-17 figures are released.

If students are displaced or in transition, they have the right to stay in school, she pointed out.

“We have to work with kids to get them back to their original school and see that their basic needs are met.”

REAL LIFE APPLICATIONS

Other organizations outside school walls provide real-life and rewarding experiences.

Besides Scouting programs for both young men and young women, 4H is an organization that is still very viable, and it's an extension of what kids do in school, said Cassidy Baker, Penn State Extension Educator and 4H Youth Development.

There are 27 clubs in Lawrence County that include traditional livestock groups, family living groups, a teen group that focuses on leadership skills and a shooting sports program. Three hundred kids are enrolled in these activities, Baker said, with 100 adult leaders who are screened.

“Four H is really a transitional tool that teaches real life lessons, and any project involving an animal or craft requires time management and resources that apply to real life applications, she mentioned, adding an older member can take on the role of mentoring a junior member.

“Skills are transferable as they move on in life," Baker said.

There are so many connections from 4H to the outside world, she explained, adding that some of the topics not entirely covered in school become more in-depth during 4H activities.

“We witness character development, and leadership of these kids is incredible and remarkable. Protection and transition are very key elements of what I do.”

A POLiSHED GEM

Another group co-founded by Octavia Payne and Michele Perelman in 2004 is now named Diamond Girls in Transition, and that last word clearly defines what happens with the young women who may join in fifth grade and stay through their senior year.

The 15 girls who started at age 11 are now in eighth grade, and most are from the New Castle Area School District, Payne said, adding this is the second group that she and Perelman have overseen, with one adult mentor for every young woman.

Diamond Girls in Transition is unique to the area and the program teaches self respect, responsibility and accountability, she explained.

A goal is “to look beyond her present and prepare for her future,” Payne said, and she and Perelman work with other organizations and agencies to provide programs such as staying healthy and hygiene. Sessions are also conducted by the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County on body image.

Another part of Diamond Girls in Transition is offering “real-life lessons and tools” when the group meets each month. The young women may also volunteer at the Crisis Ahelter, work at the Glory Grille and participate in other community projects, Payne said.

There are numerous success stories. One graduate of the program wrote that she will always have a second family to go to for help with anything that she needs and that she had some of the best experiences in life while being a part of the organization.

Payne said some Diamond Girls in Transition graduates are attending law school, and studying theater and forensics at four-year schools while others opt for community college.

LOOKING AHEAD

With all these supplements to help students while they are in school, the time comes to face the future.

Moving on from high school is addressed by Lawrence County School to Work, a program that helps students advance to a two- or four-year college, an apprenticeship or trade school or the work force.

Throughout the year, School to Work holds various events including the business and industrial career fair for 10th graders, a health fair for eighth graders, an engineering day and A GEM Affair, which is Girls Engaging Mentors for ninth-grade females, said Lynda Jaworski Rapone, executive director of School to Work.

“There are different paths to follow that all address from high school into the career world, “Jaworski Rapone said. “They are leaving the safety net of high school and what they’ve know for the last 12 years."

The programs cater to different groups and provide what the work environments in that career would be like, she explained. There are also workshops to teach students skills like interviewing, writing a resume and cover letter, how to shake a hand properly and other real-life lessons, she acknowledged.

School to Work, too, introduces students to jobs they may or may not know about, Jaworski Rapone explained, and these events and opportunities provide that information.

Outside the realms of the classroom, Lawrence County agencies and organizations are at the ready with the resources to help from toddler to teen.

lpezzuto@ncnewsonline.com

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