Kim Hood, director of Transition U, stands with 2023 graduates John Barnes, Christopher Foor and Tiffany Smith. Graduate Brandon Cassady was not present for the photo.

MOUNT VERNON – Four young people were awarded their high school diplomas on Friday after overcoming learning challenges to graduate from Transition U, a life skills teaching program at the Knox Learning Center.

Families, friends and staff from the Learning Center gathered in the Alumni Room at Mount Vernon Nazarene University to applaud John Barnes, Centerburg Local Schools; Christopher Foor, Mount Vernon City Schools and Tiffany Smith, Ontario Local Schools.

Brandon Cassady, Cardington Local Schools, was unable to attend because of his grandfather’s funeral.

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Transition U serves students ages 17 to 22 who have earned enough credits for graduation but whose special needs or disabilities delayed development of the life skills needed to live independently. The program teaches cooking, hygiene, personal finance and other skills in the classroom and job skills at several businesses in the community.

Awarding of diplomas is deferred until parents, students’ home districts and Transition U staff agree that personal life skills have been achieved or the students have found gainful employment.

Barnes, 22, attended Transition U for five years.

Foor, 21, was a four-year participant.

Smith, 21, and Cassady, 22, were in Transition U for a year.

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“You all are wonderful,” Transition U director Kim Hood told the graduates as they received their diplomas.

Turning to the audience, Hood explained that this was her first year at Transition U.

“These were a great group of kids to work with. I couldn’t ask for any better,” she said. “All of these graduates are going to be great employees and do great things with their lives.”

Bill Seder, superintendent of Mount Vernon City Schools, and Pam Rose, the district’s director of student services, attended the graduation to cheer Foor’s success.

“I have known Chris and his family since he was in preschool,” Rose said. “We met yearly to monitor his progress. When he was 18 we knew he needed more life skills.”

Seder, who joined Rose in praising Foor’s achievement, said Foor participated in the commencement of Mount Vernon’s Class of 2020 but his diploma was withheld at that time. Transition U “filled the gap” in preparing Foor for independent living, Seder said.

Foor will continue his employment at Goodwill of Knox County.

Diane Wenzinger of the Transition U staff thanked “so many in the community who support our program.”

“And thank you to all of our parents,” she said. “You have wonderful, amazing children.”

Friday’s program included a buffet luncheon.

Knox Learning Center, an alternative school for students in elementary grades through high school, is located in the former Mount Vernon West Elementary building. Operated by the Knox Educational Service Center, it services districts in Knox and surrounding counties.

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