As a child develops into a young adult, different skill sets become essential. For many children with special needs, it’s no longer just about an algebra score or reading level. How to live on your own, get a career started, go to college, budget, save, repair your car, cook, and all of the “fun” aspects of adulthood take center stage.
For a lot of school districts across the United States, these Transition Services are severely lacking in substance, or missing all together.
I first encountered the significant deficiency in transition services about 8 years into my teaching career. After mostly working in a self-contained classroom filled with junior high students, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and try teaching high school. I figured high school couldn’t be much different, plus I was still at the same school… Boy was I wrong!
My high school class (9th -12th grades) was self-contained, with an average of 14 students, all of which had been diagnosed with an emotional disability. I had so many things planned and fun ideas running through my head… A science fair, field trips, volunteering in the community, learning life skills and even raising money for different charities. I wanted my students to be involved in everything and start preparing for the “real world.” I was excited to start my new adventure.
During the first few weeks of school, everything was going quite well. The students were working hard academically and behaviors were at a minimum. So it seemed like a good time to start focusing on social skills and transition services. Since this was my first year teaching high school, I started asking other teachers and administrators about resources for my students. I attempted to do my own research, but came up mostly empty handed.
There were three other teachers who had been working with high school children for years. What better place to get answers… or at least, so I thought. During our after school meeting that week, I asked about transition services and how they incorporated them with the IEP.
One teacher said, “Well… the only resource we have is a test that the students take online to find out more about their interests. The school district is supposed to provide materials and resources but they never have. We’ve called several times and still nothing. You will just have to come up with your own ideas and curriculum.”
I think my face must have turned pale as a ghost, because within 30 seconds everyone started asking me if I was okay. Physically, I was fine, emotionally though… I was a mess. How could I possibly write curriculum for something I’ve never taught, and only a handful of available (mostly outdated) resources?
After the meeting I sat down with the principal of the school to find out more about this. He said that there really isn’t a plan or curriculum in place for transition services. It was something they were still working on. He also said that I could call the school district to see if they had anything to help me. “Be creative, you’ll figure it out” he said.
I had no words, why was this not a big deal or concern for the teachers and especially the principal? What happened to all of the students who graduated over the past few years? Were they prepared for “adulthood” and the “real world?” IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) states that transition planning starts at the LATEST in high school. It is required by law to start once a student becomes 16 years old. How is the IEP accurate if nothing is being done in and outside of the classroom to prepare students for the future?
To make this story short, this was the worst year of my teaching experience. I struggled the entire school year trying to incorporate transition services into my “homemade” lessons.
I spent hours calling organizations, reading and researching about different opportunities for my students. No one ever helped; the school district called back but never followed through with anything.
I also had a difficult time writing IEP’s that year. I knew most of the transition goals would never be reached because the resources were limited to NOTHING. Yes, I did get them out into the community a few times and I taught a few classes on life skills, but that wasn’t enough.
I didn’t feel my students were prepared for the future. It’s truly tough to describe the emotions running through me at graduation that year. Watching these young adults receive their diploma, knowing they weren’t provided with the tools and resources they truly deserve and feeling like I had let them down.
Across the United States, there are thousands of stories similar to this. Every year, students are graduating from high school without a plan or even the skills to succeed in the world. Many pushed along even though their grades were far from acceptable.
How would this country be different if the political focus changed to education? Would all, or at least some of these issues get fixed? I don’t have the answer, but I do know that with enough like-minded people working together… we can influence positive change in the education system, and get our children the resources and opportunities they deserve!
-Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
What are your thoughts on Transition Services?
As an educator, have you witnessed similar situations with the district? Were you able to influence change for your student?
As a parent or young adult, how were the Transition Services in your district? What was your experience?
Please share in the comment section below.