The dollop of butter wasn't spreading easily for Sean Quinlin as his knife made uneven jabs at a slice of bread.
Teacher's aide Debbie Whiley leaned in, showing Quinlin, 18, how to hold a knife for optimum spreading, then told him the remaining steps for making a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
Lunchtime is part of the curriculum inside the small tidy rental home on Proctor Street in West Sacramento, where Washington Unified School District operates a program for 18- to 22-year-old students with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome.
The award-winning program replicates a real-world living experience inside a rental home a short walk from Washington Unified's district office. The white house with powder blue trim is filled with lessons, from yardwork to schoolwork to how to get to work.
"The visual aid of being in the house is awesome," said Whiley, who has been with the program since it was created in 2004. "This is the students' house. They have to take care of it."
School districts are required by federal and state law to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities until they earn a general diploma or age out at 22.
As part of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, districts are mandated to help students with disabilities make the transition from school to their adult life.
Transition programs vary across the state, with some districts providing an extended high school experience, while others are offering community-based programs.
Washington Unified's program was created by Diana Blackmon, an expert on transition programs for special education students. Blackmon, the district's director of special services, was the primary author of the state's guide for transition resources and information.
"Our whole goal is for students to be as independent as possible," Blackmon said. "We want them to use the bus. That keeps them from being socially isolated. The more we teach them to get around, the more likely they are to get out."
On Mondays and Wednesdays, most of the dozen students in the program board a bus, a light-rail train and then another bus for an 80-minute trip to American River College. Once there, they take an adaptive weight-lifting class. There is already talk of students taking a swimming class in the fall.
"There are lessons all along the way to catch the bus and on the bus," said the program's lead teacher, Chad Hinton. "We also work on watching for cars."
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students go to job sites, where they work at Goodwill, Dollar Tree and PRIDE Industries. "They work at work sites where there is an option of being hired," Hinton said.
On Fridays, the class typically goes somewhere in the community for a lesson.
In between, there are lessons inside the two bedroom, one bathroom house, which the district rents for $1,000 a month. One bedroom is a staff office, with binders of curriculum lining the shelves. Across a narrow hallway, a teal bedroom serves as the student break room, with two computers, a couch and a television.
"The goal is for them to live on their own in a supported environment, when appropriate," Hinton said. "We assess everything to help them become as independent as possible."
Students work on literacy by reading or recognizing pictures of words they would see in a grocery store, at a restaurant or at work. They focus on math by counting fake money. Some still struggle to tell the difference between a nickel and penny and how many cents each is worth.
Others recognize denominations more easily, matching a picture of a banana that costs 32 cents with how many nickels and pennies it would cost to buy it.
"We are teaching them life skills," said teachers aid Lucy Jose. "They have to clean the house and learn how to shut things down before leaving."