A recent study found that 95% of general-population high school students think they “definitely” or “probably” will continue on to some form of post-secondary education. However, students with special needs are less confident, with only 86% saying they are likely to further their education. In the study, post-secondary education is not only referring to four-year colleges; for many students, continuing education is also vocational, technical or trade school programs.Schools, parents and students are working together to help students gain confidence in the possibility of post-secondary education by developing transition plans. These plans are individually designed to help students transition from high school to post-secondary education, employment or independent living. Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), transition planning is included in every student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) that begins, at the latest, when the student turns 16 years old.

As educators, you already know the important role you play in the transition planning process for your students. From IEP planning to teach self-advocacy skills, you put transition plans into action each and every day. In this e-newsletter we have gathered some statistics and tips to help you communicate with both students and parents throughout the process.

Student communication
The dropout rate of students with disabilities is an astonishing 39%. In addition to interventions already used in the classroom, help students stay on track for graduation and beyond with these communication tips:

  • Show students you believe in them.

According to the “Perceptions and Expectations of Youth with Disabilities” report from 2007, on average, the expectations parents hold for their son or daughter with special needs are lower than the expectations the child holds for him or herself. Educators can bridge this gap by helping both parents and students explore the possibilities. Encourage students to dream big by providing each with a pocket buddy notebook to write their hopes and dreams. Each week review the notebook with students, read through their aspirations and identify ways that students can work towards those goals.

  • Encourage active student involvement in the transition planning process.

Only 14% of special needs students actually attend and take a leadership role in the transition planning process. Encourage involvement in the process by inviting the student to all IEP/transition planning meetings. Ask that he/she bring along that notebook so, as a team, you can include plans to reach the goals of both the student and parents.

  • Educate parents and students about post-secondary opportunities.

Some students may not be cut out for a four-year college, but there are alternatives. Work with students to explore vocational, technical or trade schools that align with their future goals. Consider planning an education fair or partnering with an existing one, invite representatives from a variety of post-secondary schools with programs for special needs students. Don’t forget to hand out logo’d conventioneers tote bags at the door for students to collect all the great education fair swag.

Helping parents through the transition
The IEP and transition plan is commonly developed jointly between the school, teacher, parent and student. However, about one-third of parents recently surveyed said they were not able to participate in the process as much as they would have liked. Help parents take an active role in the process with these ideas:

  • Start parents thinking about the transition process early.

While the IDEA act requires a transition plan in place by age 16, planning can begin as early as middle school. In fact, studies show that by age 14 the transition planning process is already underway for about two-thirds of students. Plant the seed that transition planning is about to begin by giving parents of middle-school aged special-needs children a forget-me-not bookmark that really grows. Have the bookmark imprinted with your school logo and a motivational quote about the transition planning process.

  • Encourage parents to share their questions, concerns and ideas.

During the first IEP team meeting, send important documents home with parents in a handy 3-ring binder bearing your school’s logo. Include a special journal section stacked with blank paper for parents to write down their questions, concerns or ideas they may have between meetings. Start each meeting by reviewing those notes together, highlighting ideas that can be used in the student’s IEP/transition plan.

  • Promote open communication.
    Use an academic planner and sticky flags to keep the communication open between IEP meetings. Jot down progress notes daily and send the planner home with the actionable items flagged each evening. Provide parents with the same sticky flags and ask them to do the same. This is a great way to share important milestones with parents or to flag areas for improvement.

Educators, thank you for all you do to give special needs students and their parents the confidence to successfully transition to post-secondary education.

(For more information about helping students with disabilities stay in school, visit the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities’ website at www.ndpc-sd.org )

 Wagner, Mary, Lynn Newman, Renée Cameto, Phyllis Levine, and Camille Marder. “Perceptions and Expectations of Youth With Disabilities. A Special Topic Report of Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2).” NLTS2: Home. National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), Aug. 2007. Web. 8 Mar. 2011.

Cortiella, Candace. “IDEA 2004 Close Up: Transition Planning.” GreatSchools – Public and Private School Ratings, Reviews and Parent Community. The Advocacy Institute, Jan. 2010. Web. 8 Mar. 2011.

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