Thursday, June 8, 2017

PATHSS Commencement

Six students participated in commencement exercises from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ PATHSS (Project Achieve for Transitioning High School Students) program Thursday evening, June 1. The ceremony was held on the UNC campus in Manning Hall, the homebase for PATHSS over the last few years.           

In an auditorium decorated with blue and white balloons and filled with family, friends and program supporters, each student, in cap and gown, presented a slide scrapbook to applause, laughs and more than a few tears. At the culmination of the ceremony, the students proceeded to the stage and, one at a time, accepted their certificates from Dr. Pamela Baldwin, CHCCS superintendent, and then hugged and high fived their instructor Dr. Dana Hanson-Baldauf, and teaching assistants, Brooks Covington and Tabitha McKean, as well as representatives from UNC and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
PATHSS serves high school students, ages 18-22, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program represents a collaboration between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and UNC, and is partially funded by a grant from the Oak Foundation.
A primary feature of PATHSS is the network of externship options available to the students, and those externships were on prominent and triumphant display in each student’s slide presentation. Scanning and processing books at UNC Davis Library, stocking condiments and napkins at Beach Cafe and pricing merchandise at UNC Student Stores Warehouse were just a few of the tasks that filled the students’ days on campus. Several students expressed excitement at the prospect of earning wages in the community, using skills gained this year in their externships.
During the commencement’s opening remarks, Dr. Hanson-Baldauf, the PATHSS externship facilitator-instructor, thanked the CHCCS board members for their early and continuing support. She then told the six smiling graduates, “I am proud of all that you have accomplished during your time in PATHSS and so excited for all the future holds. You are all rock stars in your own unique ways. As you move forward, I want you to remember that you are the experts of your lives. You are the captains of your ships. Your voices matter and need to be heard.”

Before the students marched out of the auditorium, they delivered an energetic and expressive dance performance, “The Climb,” still in full cap and gown regalia. Then it was on to the blue and white graduation cake and group photos on the steps of Manning Hall in the cool evening air.