The Charger Blog

University Collaborates with Amity Transition Academy to Create Opportunities for Students with Special Needs

The University of New Haven’s new relationship with the Amity Transition Academy is enabling students with special needs to gain meaningful work experience as they transition from high school and prepare for their next job.

February 1, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Group image of Alyssa Kopjanski and ATA students at the University’s Orange campus.
Alyssa Kopjanski and ATA students at the University’s Orange campus.

For Christine Delldonna, her involvement with the Amity Transition Academy (ATA) has been a meaningful way for her to connect with the students from the ATA while introducing them to the University of New Haven.

As coordinator for the University’s relationship with the ATA, Delldonna has liaised with Amity Regional School District #5 administrators, teachers, and students, helping to create new work opportunities for students. A community and vocationally based program, the ATA provides specialized instruction to students with disabilities in the classroom, in the community, and in work settings.

“It is an honor to be the coordinator for the Amity Transition Academy at the University’s Orange Campus,” said Delldonna, director of budget and operations for the University’s Pompea College of Business. “This is a great opportunity for these students to be exposed to a college and work environment.”

‘A lasting contribution to their skill development’

The program, which began in the fall, provides opportunities for students transitioning from high school into the workplace, enabling them to begin their journey at the University of New Haven. Hosted by Pompea College of Business staff, such as Delldonna, and the University’s Office of Facilities, which has also provided work opportunities and workspace for students, the ATA operates out of the University’s Orange Campus.

Image of a student helping Christine Delldonna with office work.
A student helps Christine Delldonna with office work.

“It is meaningful for the University because it connects us to the broader community, to the Amity School District, and to the students and their families participating in the Transition Academy,” said Christine Shakespeare, Ph.D., interim deputy provost for the University who helped facilitate the University’s relationship with the ATA. “We hope the impact is that the students’ experience at the University gives them what they need for a successful transition into the workforce.”

As part of their involvement in the program, approximately half a dozen students, accompanied by their teachers, arrive at the University by bus and have group time with their teachers. They perform small jobs on- and, sometimes, off-campus, such as office and custodial work.

“The University is not only providing a wonderful space for the students, but also meaningful work experiences on campus,” said Alyssa Kopjanski, the head teacher for the program. “This program is essential in providing real-world skills to our students as they begin the transition to adult day services. They learn skills that they will use on a daily and consistent basis in their everyday lives. The ATA looks to make a lasting contribution on their skill development – specifically, in the areas of vocational skills and activities of daily living.”

‘It always feels good to give back to the community’

Participation in the program prepares students, whose Planning and Placement Team has determined they need specialized educational services past the age of 18, for their next job. Kopjanski enjoys seeing her students learn and build their skills, and she continues to learn from them as well.

“Being the head teacher of this program has helped me grow as an educator in many ways,” she said. “I love that my students teach me new things every day. Seeing their progress over the years is what is meaningful to me. The students develop many skills and grow as young adults while they are in this program, which is rewarding and inspiring.”

The hope is that the University’s relationship with the ATA will continue to develop, eventually creating opportunities for University of New Haven students to interact with ATA students and to build a relationship with Amity Regional School District #5. Ultimately, the goal is for faculty and staff to be able to provide jobs for ATA students, as well as service-learning opportunities. The University is also exploring a similar relationship with the West Haven School District.

For Delldonna, whose own children were students of Amity Regional School District #5 and who has experience working with special needs students, she is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the school district that gave so much to her own children.

“I take great pleasure in volunteering, and it always feels good to give back to the community,” she said. “Our hope is to have this program grow by getting our University of New Haven students involved with these young adults.”