What Is Transitional Living? A Glimpse of Community and Life
When a high school graduate enters college, the workforce, or the military following graduation, there are significant social, professional, and personal skills needed to be successful. Whether it’s managing time, cooperating in a team environment, or doing laundry, success is about more than academics—it involves navigating daily responsibilities and solving unexpected problems.
To help Milton Hershey School students build these life skills and prepare for a successful future, every senior is required to participate in the school’s Transitional Living (TL) program.
“The goal is to prepare them for the following year when they graduate and are on their own,” said Laura Perales, MHS Associate Director of Transitional Living. “TL gives seniors the flexibility to make mistakes while they have a support system, so we can help them make corrections and learn important life lessons.”
Seniors live independently in apartment-style complexes with guidance from MHS TL staff. With 52 apartments spread across 10 buildings on the MHS campus, seniors live with four to six students who have similar hobbies, interests and lifestyles. This unique residential program shapes the way our seniors approach life after graduation and builds their sense of responsibility, independence and community.
Weekly TL Curriculum
In the TL program, staff incorporate weekly curriculum into the students’ schedules. Lessons revolve around healthy relationships, stress management, cooking, study skills, social and emotional learning, and health and wellness.
“These are experiential, student-focused lessons, so there’s usually an activity or video included to keep them interested,” Perales said.
Many of the weekly lessons also are student-led to make them more meaningful, and the curriculum is constantly changing based on feedback from alumni.
“We structure our program based on our Graduate Success Indicators. In areas our graduates struggle, we adapt our programming and curriculum accordingly,” Perales explained. “We also talk to residence life staff at various colleges to understand common issues that college freshmen experience, so we can get ahead of them and create programming that addresses those concerns.”
Fostering Student Engagement with TL Communities
Similar to living learning communities at colleges and universities, each TL apartment falls into one of five themes that match Milton Hershey School’s 2020 Vision Strategic Plan:
- STEAM and Sustainability
- College and Military Preparation
- Global Citizenship
- Leadership and Community Service
- Health and Wellness
At the end of their junior year, students chose which communities were most important to them. After being placed in a TL community that matches their passions, many seniors become highly engaged and welcome the opportunity to plan activities centered around these themes.
“The students lead the programming in [the communities]. They are the ones driving it,” said Perales. “It has been exciting to see them own the strategic plan from a student perspective.”
For example, the Global Citizenship TL planned register-to-vote nights on campus during the presidential election and organized shuttles to polls. The Health and Wellness TL initiated a student health council where they organize healthy snack nights and lead a Play60 activity program for all seniors. The Leadership and Community Service TL also has completed more than 800 hours of community service—proving that when students feel connected to a community, they can accomplish anything.
Establishing Life Skills
In ninth through 11th grade, MHS students learn basic life skills, such as cooking and budgeting, with the guidance of their houseparents. When they enter the TL program as seniors, TL staff members help students build a deeper foundation. Seniors are responsible for:
- Budgeting and managing money—Seniors have a weekly grocery budget and learn how to manage money through an online banking tool.
- Meal planning—Students must submit a weekly meal plan to TL staff who guide them throughout the week.
- Cooking—They have the option of eating dinner on campus Monday through Thursday, but for the rest of the week, students must work together to cook their meals.
- Conflict resolution and cooperation—By living with people who have different personalities, seniors learn how to work together to clean the apartment, delegate responsibilities, and maintain a stress-free home.
- Problem solving—In an independent living setting, many students struggle with self-advocacy and asking for help. When the answer to a problem isn’t readily available, TL staff make a continued effort to help students be resourceful and advocate for themselves until they find a solution.
“At first, it’s an adjustment because they have to do things on their own. They have support, but they don’t have all the questions answered for them,” Perales said. “Our staff will say, ‘How are you going to solve this problem?’ rather than coming up with a solution. So it’s a learning curve [for students].”
As students expand their problem-solving skills, they begin to develop independence, confidence, and more control over their decisions.
Overcoming Challenges to Achieve Postgraduate Success
Many of the obstacles students face in the TL program are situations that mirror life and force them to become resilient and adaptable.
“The biggest challenge, especially in the beginning, is time management,” Perales said. “They learn what’s important and how to set priorities.”
Setting priorities includes managing their sleep schedule as well as their academics. The TL staff help monitor their grades and assignments, and if they receive lower grades, students may be required to complete more structured study sessions or more frequent check-ins with staff.
By offering individualized support while still giving students the freedom to make their own decisions, the TL program is developing responsible adults who have the skills they need to achieve their goals. Senior year is one of the most memorable times in a student’s life, and with the help of TL staff, MHS seniors can graduate fully prepared for the future.
MHS Professionals Blog
No matter what level of interaction MHS staff members have with students, everyone’s work contributes to our goal of building brighter futures through a top-notch education. Read the blogs of our professionals and hear from the talented individuals who live out the school’s mission.