By Kim Beardslee, MAISD transition coordinator
Have you heard the term “transition”?
Actually, we experience “transition” throughout our lives — babies to toddlers, toddlers to school-age children, adults into retirement. One of our most important transitions is going from high school to the adult world.
Students eligible for special education support services face many barriers during this critical “transition” time. The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires that an individual education plan team address the area of transition for students age 16 or older in order to be successful in adult-life roles.
The law indicates that transition services means “a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability, that is designed to be a results-oriented process, which is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, and integrated employment (including supported employment)”.
During August 2013 in Montcalm County, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities was reported as 14.1 percent (7.1 percent for people without disabilities) according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In Montcalm County, 14.6 percent of people with disability live 100 to 500 percent below the poverty level. Housing assistance is often required for people with disabilities due to expenses in other areas such as health care. The 2009 American Housing Survey census identified that 14.6 percent of people with disabilities require housing assistance, compared to those without disability (5.5 percent). The percentage of households without a vehicle for people with disability was 9.2 percent (2.3 percent for those without a disability). These statistics reinforce the importance of on-going transition service and activities for special education students.
The federal law requires “transition” be addressed by the time a student is 16 years of age. Best practice, which is highly encouraged by Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) as well as the Michigan Department of Education, is to begin the planning process at age 14, or younger if needed. The recommended time extension is to allow for meaningful activities to be developed and provided for students with disability in order to improve the students’ success as they enter into adult life and the community.
During this transition planning process, the individual education planning team is required to consider at least four adult life-role areas which include the identification of career goal(s), post-secondary instruction options, adult daily life goals, and goals in the area recreation and leisure. The team is responsible for looking at current academic and functional performance data as it relates to the student and their post-school vision, and to develop a “coordinated set of services and/or activities” to assist the student in achieving their post-secondary vision.
The MAISD, through the leadership of a transition coordinator, participates and provides supports and activities to assist local school districts in meeting the legal and student needs for transition planning through a variety of avenues. For example, the Montcalm Community Transition Council meets twice per school year. Stakeholders, such as educators, parents, adult community agencies come together to discuss issues, network, and learn about evidence-based practices that increase positive post-school outcomes for students with disability. Other events addressing topics such as housing, safety, benefits of employing persons with disability, and various community supports have also been offered.
The MAISD provides programing for special education students ages 18 to 26 who demonstrate developmental disabilities so significant that they may require lifelong support in most adult life-role areas. In Stanton, the “Hometown Stanton Program” for students does just that in which employment, community access and functional life skills are the focus of instruction.
The mission of the MAISD is to lead, collaborate and serve, in order to create education without boundaries. It is difficult for us to visualize that all education must be conducted within the walls of a school building. The MAISD provides support to assist local districts in implementing work-based learning within the student’s community. Within this instructional model, community partners agree to allow a student with disability to develop and practice vocational job skills during the school day.
Research has shown that experiences such as work-based learning are one of the most critical activities to improve the probability of future employment for students. Employment is the first priority and preferred outcome of people with disabilities within the MAISD.
On May 6, the MAISD along with the seven local school districts will propose a special education millage adjustment. If successful, this millage will help support transition activities throughout Montcalm County. Every child, every school, vote.