STEP helps students in and out of the classroom


For the students in Chantilly High School’s Secondary Transition to Employment Program (STEP) being able to balance a job while learning valuable life skills is a highlight of their experiences. 

According to its website, “The goal of the STEP program is to expand employment training/transition offerings in the western part of Fairfax County for students, ages 18-22, who have earned a special or modified standard diploma.”

STEP partners with various employers in the area — and businesses even come to the classroom to interview students who are interested in working with them, according to Teresa Clawson-Keeton, the STEP employment, and transition representative. 

Aside from Chantilly High School, there are STEP programs at three other locations: Davis Career Center, South Lake High School, and Mount Vernon High School. According to Clawson-Keeton, Chantilly was the first STEP location in Fairfax County. 

Alyssa Loyd is in her last year of STEP and currently works at Poplar Tree Elementary School, where she works in a gym class as an assistant. 

Loyd has been able to teach students different exercises, which she practices outside of the classroom as well — even waking up before 5 a.m. to do so. 

“It’s just because I like to be an early bird. And then during the PE, I like to see the demonstrated exercise. And that’s how I keep up my exercising skills,” she said. 

Erin Foster, an independent living skills teacher in STEP, said that a lot of the work Loyd does also pertains to what students learn in STEP, as they teach them about healthy lifestyle choices and exercise.  

“Alyssa is one of these people that everywhere she goes everybody loves her because she’s just so nice, always has a positive attitude. She’s always determined and does her best everywhere she goes. So she’s like a model STEP student,” Foster said. 

Aside from practicing interview skills and getting to go on trips, another aspect that Loyd enjoys about her schooling is something she called Fun Fridays, where she’s able to take part in Kahoot, a game in which students compete to answer questions. 

Patrick Santilli, like Loyd, is in his last year of the program. His favorite job site which he has worked as was a senior center. 

“What made it my favorite is the amazing people that I got to work with. And they always would say hi, they would always introduce themselves and get to know me because they heard about me, a lot of people would spread the word about me being so awesome,” Santilli explained. 

Now, he’ll be the first STEP student to work at a Hilton hotel — a new job which he starts this week. 

Ethan Lesnik said that one of his favorite aspects of STEP is how educators spend time with students helping to build their strengths, as well as working with them on things that they might need extra help with. 

“My strength is my love for others and compassion,” he said. He said that this compassion plays a role in his current job at Habitat for Humanity. He likes the environment of the store, where people are able to get things secondhand. 

This is Lesnik’s second year in the program. His first year in STEP consisted of virtual schooling — which, although everyone did their best to adapt to that environment, left him feeling a bit isolated at times. 

“I think a lot of it’s a lot of people have gone through tough times being virtual. As humans, we all need to have social experiences to have an emotional, well-balanced mental health and I know a lot of people in America have struggled with their mental health with virtual and everything and one of the things I’m grateful for is being able to go out and see my friends and my peers and just enjoy life,” Lesnik explained. 

Foster said she loves being able to see the growth that students experience while in the program. She also noted that while job sites help students learn about the workforce, the classroom is crucial to them learning valuable soft skills, like communication, time management, and teamwork. 

For Santilli, the STEP community is his favorite part of being in the program. 

​​”And just not the teachers but the students too ... in the three-year period, you have so many good friends like I do, and you will definitely come back to visit all those friends who are still in his classroom,” he explained. 

Once students finish their time at STEP, there are a variety of things students go on to do, from working to more school. 

“Some may go and take some more college classes, others are with adult agencies,” Clawson-Keeton explained. One of the particular agencies STEP students might utilize is the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services, she said.

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