Vista Adult Transition Center, located at 305 and 325 Bobier Drive, in Vista, California, is a community hub for young adults with disabilities.  

Currently our campus consists of eight Adult Transition Program classes, of which six are for students with moderate-to-severe disabilities and two for students with mild-to-moderate disabilities.  Our Vista Adolescent Learning Academy (VALA) is an intensive behavior assistance program for middle and high school students developed as a less-restrictive alternative to non-public schools.  Additionally, our Specialized Health and Intensive Needs Education (SHINE) class provides award-winning services for adolescents and young adults with medical fragility and cognitive challenges.

A satellite work-study program at California State University, San Marcos also is part of VATC.  The students in this program are part of the Grounds Department, assisting with hardscape maintenance and recycling for the university, while receiving instruction in the domains of adult transition.



A Short History of Vista Adult Transition Center

 

The story of Vista Adult Transition Center is in many ways reflective of the trends of special education.  Originally built as Sierra Vista High School in the late 1970’s, it demonstrated VUSD’s commitment to PL 94-142 the law that mandated all children, regardless of disabling condition, would be educated in a free and appropriate way.  The original campus, surrounding the current quad, was developed to parallel the program across the street at Vista High School, in a way that reflected a student body of cognitively challenged students, aged 14-22 years old.  As special education local planning agencies (SELPAs) developed (such as North Coastal Consortium for Special Education, or NCCSE), Sierra Vista High School became a regional program, serving students throughout the SELPA.  High school students with special needs were bused to SVHS from communities as far away as Del Mar to the south, San Marcos to the east, Fallbrook to the north, and Oceanside to the west.

 

But students have a right to the least restrictive environment… as close as is educationally appropriate for their success to the general education curriculum and all other students their age.  In the 1980s the push in education was toward “mainstreaming” of students in special education. This push was well-intentioned but not entirely well-planned.  The student body of SVHS dropped significantly and was replaced with students from local districts who had behavioral and emotional difficulties.  Two, then eventually three portable classrooms were added to the campus, creating in effect, two distinct and completely separate programs.

 

In the 1990s SVHS continued with the two programs, and while under the jurisdiction of Vista Unified School District, it remained a regional site, accessed by all districts in NCCSE.  For a period, as the pendulum swung toward less mainstreaming again, the population of the school also ebbed and waned.  Special education numbers as a whole grew steadily as identification of “learning handicapped” and “language disordered” students were receiving additional help and families were seeing the benefit of specially credentialed teachers and paraprofessionals.

 

By the early 2000s all public schools had at least some special education programs.  Sierra VIsta had branched out to include a college program at Palomar CC and a maintenance crew at the new Cal State San Marcos campus.  The idea was to provide students aged 18-22 the chance to interact with same-aged peers-- something they could not easily do on a high school campus.  Enrollment remained fairly stable, mainly due to the increase in adult transition students and students with behavioral challenges.  A more well-planned and inclusive push toward least restrictive environment came at this time, bolstered by the passing of the Individuals with DIsabilities in Education Act in 2004.  With that law, public schools systems were less likely to determine that students needed to travel outside of their own communities.  SVHS began a steady decline in enrollment.  It was. in fact, an obsolete program and there was a great deal of talk about what would become of the school.

 

A change in funding in 2011 resulted in the discontinuation of regional programs in NCCSE.  This, and the continued movement toward greater integration of students with special needs into the general population resulted in a disbanding of one third of the programs at SVHS.  At that same time, Common Core was in its infancy.  A focus on college and career outcomes for students began taking shape.  High school diplomas were not the ticket to a good job, and there had been a gradual “watering down” of their value over the course of decades.  Even less valuable were certificates of completion - the standard awards given to students in moderate/severe special education programs upon their “aging out” at 22 years old.  These facts pointed to a need for a major cognitive shift, one that a program for adult transition students aged 18-22 might provide.

 

The Sierra Vista High School campus became VATC officially in the 2013-2014 school year.  Dedicated to providing assistance and education to students who would typically fall through the cracks - ones who would either receive a diploma and be sent ill-prepared into the adult world, or would be provided what amounted to a continuation of high school curriculum with some additional help in job-finding and functional skills training.   By changing the name and focus, the mindset of the students, staff and parents changed as well.  VATC became a hub for young adults who are completed with their high school careers and are ready for the next phase - post-secondary education, career exploration, work training, community resource access, domestic and daily living and mobility skills.  Almost immediately, the student population began to increase. Within two years, VATC added several classes and extended the program to students with mild to moderate disabilities.  The mild/moderate caseload increased enough during the 2016-2017 school year to add yet another teacher for that program.

 

The future?  We intend to build upon the solid foundation already established.  VATC has a connection with Palomar and Mira Costa Community Colleges, Vista Adult School, San Diego Regional Center, the Department of Rehabilitation and numerous local businesses.  At this time we are the largest of the adult transition programs in North County and it appears we will continue to grow as more students recognize the importance of gaining experiences beyond high school that will expand their opportunities to be functioning, successful, contributing adults.