Service Works! Promoting Transition Success for Students with Disabilities through Participation in Service Learning

By O'Connor, Michael P. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2009 | Go to article overview
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Service Works! Promoting Transition Success for Students with Disabilities through Participation in Service Learning


O'Connor, Michael P., Teaching Exceptional Children


In the 2004-2005 school year, Beth was a sophomore at Madison High School. She enjoyed drawing, reading, and spending time with her friends. She was classified as having moderate cognitive disabilities, and spent most of her school day with her primary special education teacher, Mrs. Sullivan. Beth spent about 60% of her school day in Mrs. Sullivan's room, and the remainder of the day in general education classes. She enjoyed her general education American history class, for example, with the popular teacher Mr. Whittaker. He provided accommodations such as letting her listen to taped transcriptions of the textbook, and modified her assignments. Beth' s parents, her teachers, and Beth agreed that her educational placement was a good one, and that she was working in appropriate classrooms that were the least restrictive settings for her abilities and needs.

That year, when Beth turned 16, the team in charge of her individualized education program (IEP) began developing her individualized transition plan, as required by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Mrs. Sullivan, as part of that team, had received excellent supports and training from her district regarding the transition planning and the transition requirements of IDEA, fbr example, her district diligently promotes interagency connections with local agencies that serve individuals with disabilities, a practice that research has shown to be effective in promoting the transition outcomes of students with disabilities (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000). In support of this priority, her district arranges and hosts monthly meetings in which the representatives of social service and human services agencies and nonprofit organizations meet to discuss the transition plans of individual students. These meetings have produced tangible benefits for the students, the school, and the district, Through these monthly meetings, a greater degree of attention and scrutiny is given to each student's transition plan. Agency and nonprofit representatives have opportunities to solve problems and brainstorm with educators, often suggesting possibilities and approaches that the school district personnel, working without this input, might not have envisioned.

Another research-based practice Mrs. Sullivan knew to be effective is providing real-world work experience to students while they are in school (Benz, Yovanoff, & Doren, 1997). Accordingly, Mrs. Sullivan worked with local business people and agencies to arrange a work experience for Beth. In her last 2 years of high school, Beth worked for 3 hours a day at a local shop that manufactures and sells candles and holiday decorations.

Beth now lives in an apartment through independent living services with a roommate, and she is attending classes in culinary arts through a local nonprofit organization. She is working full time at a restaurant in the evenings, and dreams of becoming a chef there. She says that she likes her job and her apartment, and the challenge of going to school and working. In Beth's case, we see that educators using research-based practices can significantly assist students with moderate and severe disabilities to successfully transition to the adult world.

Students With Mild Disabilities

For students with mild disabilities such as learning disabilities (LD) , however, transitions to aduli life are rarely this reflective of research and best practices. Students with LD in most cases must negotiate their transition to adult life with little or no supports except the informal supports provided by family and friends. The web of agency services and research-based practice that characterizes effective transition policy for students with more significant disabilities is simply not in place for students with LD (Dowdy, 1996). Indeed, for all students with disabilities, it has been noted that the transition requirements of the IEP are too often given only cursory attention, and a large majority of the states have been found in noncompliance with the transition requirements of IDEA (Greene & Kohler, 2004) .

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Service Works! Promoting Transition Success for Students with Disabilities through Participation in Service Learning
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