Polk County Public Schools’ Transition program is designed to help adult students with special needs develop workforce skills — and that’s exactly what it’s done for Carley Jackson, an aspiring graphic designer whose work will be distributed at Sun ‘n Fun’s Flying Festival and Car Show this weekend.
“I’m glad I’m doing Transition. It’s taught me to prepare for the real world, and it’s taught me that I can be successful,” said Jackson, 21.
Through the Transition program, students with special needs are able to defer their high school diplomas until age 22 and take part in a specialized curriculum focused on developing life and job skills. Jackson studies at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy Transition site and is gaining work experience at the nearby Sun ‘n Fun campus.
Jackson has autism, a developmental disorder that affects communication and the ability to interact with others. She’s always performed well academically but has struggled socially.
“For Carley, it’s harder to make eye contact and to talk to people. She doesn’t always pick up on the social cues that you or I would,” said her teacher, Charlene Schultz.
From a very young age, Jackson has used art to observe and learn about others. Drawing her teachers and classmates helps her to understand their facial expressions. When she sits alone, filling a canvas with color, she processes things she’s observed, thought or felt that she can’t always put into words. With each piece she completes, she shares a bit of herself, helping others to understand her too.
“It helps me with what I feel. I see things differently than other people, and then I draw it out,” she said.
While at Sun ‘n Fun, Jackson has worked closely with Melissa Goodson, creative design manager, who recognized Jackson’s creative potential right away. To help Jackson hone her talents and discover ways that she could turn art into a career, Goodson assigned Jackson with special projects, including the creation of a holiday coloring sheet that will be given to children who attend this weekend’s event.
Jackson drew the coloring sheet — which features elves, reindeers and Santa flying in an airplane — by hand.
“I’ve just been blown away by her creativity,” Goodson said.
Goodson also had Jackson write and illustrate a children’s book called “Roger That.” The book tells the story of Roger, a husky born without legs; his friend Catelina, and their pet owl robot, Hootbot. With the help of his friends, Roger accomplishes his goal of becoming a pilot.
Goodson had intended to distribute the book during the 2020 Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, but the event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The delay is giving Jackson time to make final refinements, and the plan is for the book to be given away at next year’s Fly-In.
“I gave her some pointers and feedback, but all the creativity came directly from her,” said Goodson. “It will be a great addition to her portfolio.”
When she leaves Transition program, Jackson hopes to become employed as a graphic designer, animator or illustrator. The program has taught her numerous skills that have readied her for her future workplace, including how to shake hands, maintain eye contact, dress professionally, and respond in an interview.
Most important, Transition has taught her the moral that she now hopes to teach readers of “Roger That”:
“We are all unique and different, but we can all still succeed.”