- Utica Community Schools
UCNECT links students to their future
Nick DeSchutter has big dreams for his future.
He wants to get permanent employment at his current job site and live independently so he can enjoy his interests in music, games and spending time with his friends.
Getting him to those dreams is what the Utica Center Network for Employment and Community Transition (UCNECT) is all about.
Located in the district’s Training and Development Center, the program develops independent skills for special needs students ages 18 to 26.
“This program is really their bridge from high school to adult life,” said teacher Audrey Kranzo. “This gives them time to work on independence skills and grow. This is an important leap to what happens the rest of their adult life.”
The program prepares students for their independence through a mixture of developing social skills – how to treat others with kindness and respect - academic reinforcement – math and English – and through linking them to job sites for employability and financial independence.
The UCNECT staff works to create diverse and meaningful experiences for the students. Teacher Kelly Bowler has paired students with a volunteer organization to help them give back to the community. On Tuesday and Thursday, students work with teachers Margaret Grzic and Mackenzie Lupo have developed a popular student-run coffee shop at the school.
“UCNECT is very special for me,” student Tai'Liyah Yancy said. “When I come to school every morning I get to see my friends and my teachers. The work training is helping me experience what is going on in my community. I’m learning a lot here.”
Teachers are not only creating a future for Tai’Liyah and her classmates, they are also making a difference for their families.
"The UCNECT program has given my son the ability to concur everyday tasks with confidence and further develop his social, education and work skills to continue to grow and develop,” said Lisa Gabrysh. “Our family is honored to be part of this well-developed program Mrs. Kranzo and Mr. Nizza along with the para pros are phenomenal people."
Kranzo said the program supports parents by connecting them to community agencies and fostering independence and the goals they have for their young adults.
“UCNECT has made a ‘veteran attendee’ out of my son for loving school,” said Alice Brower-Cicek. “I wish such a program could continue forever.”
Since its inception at Eisenhower High School nearly 20 years ago, UCNECT has grown from 25 to its current enrollment of 65 students. The success of the program is the partnership of the program’s seven teachers and 14 paraprofessionals that makes it so successful.
She added that while students leave the program at age 26, staff members encourage students to continue their relationships with friends and staff through such activities as their Action Club, a school service club sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.
“We are looking at every single need they could possibly have,” Kranzo said. “Whatever they see as achievement, we want them to be able to realize their goal.”
To learn more about the program and our Special Services programs, we encourage you to attend our Pathways to Success event on January 17 at Henry Ford II High School. MORE.