Students with disabilities (SWD) encounter a multitude of challenges on a daily basis and often need additional support to ensure equitable opportunities during school. This need for guidance does not vanish after graduation, and there’s a strong argument that more supports are needed at this transition point in life than at any other. But the groundwork that leads to success after graduation must be laid well before students enter high school.
The past few years have allowed us to connect in a plethora of ways; however, old-fashioned relationship building inside and outside of the school is crucial to developing a network of support around students that encourages successful transitions. Educational professionals will be successful at supporting students if they consistently seek to connect the expertise of teachers, parents, colleges and universities, government organizations, private businesses, and nonprofits.
By applying their collaborative practices within the school to the community, teachers can connect the knowledge and opportunities within the state or community to their students. After this network of relationships is built and consistently maintained, schools and educators can follow the four suggestions below to further increase postsecondary success for SWD.
4 Steps to Postsecondary Success for SWD
1. Create a rigorous, relevant curriculum. Curriculum is a fundamental piece of the puzzle that is student achievement. School systems should make sure that educators are given opportunities throughout the year to collaborate to ensure horizontal and vertical alignment. Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential to improving reading, writing, and problem-solving, while also addressing any deficits in prior knowledge.
All students can benefit from being introduced to content from career, technical, and agricultural education (CTAE) during middle school. Creating a sense of familiarity and increasing prior knowledge will promote the development of expertise over time. This progressive build allows SWD to be better prepared for CTAE classes at the secondary level and aware of possible CTAE pathways before they enter high school.
CTAE and core-content curricula must provide support, differentiation, multiple methods for presentation, and a variety of ways for students to express their knowledge and mastery of standards.
2. Align transition plans with CTAE courses and student interests. It’s imperative for individualized education program (IEP) teams to create transition plans that are aligned with student interests and connect those interests to opportunities within CTAE courses. To begin, the IEP team and the school staff should provide ample opportunities for the student to complete career and interest surveys prior to the IEP meeting.
Numerous online programs, such as Virtual Job Shadow, offer the opportunity for SWD to define their interests, discover their skills, and explore career opportunities. The course of study should allow the student to experience CTAE classes that relate to their career interests.
After qualitative and quantitative data is collected, the transition goals should allow the student to build applicable employability skills, learn more about postsecondary education options, and increase their self-efficacy.
First-generation immigrants and first-generation college students may need additional help with navigating the college application process or building a career-ready résumé.
3. Expose students to numerous career pathways before and during high school. If students are actively engaged in a rigorous, relevant curriculum, they should naturally be introduced to multiple pathways before the transition to high school. This allows students to try their hand at connecting their interests and skill sets to potential career pathways.
Schools should consider exposing all students to each CTAE pathway in some capacity, while also assessing student interests before the secondary level.
Exposure to multiple pathways can take place in an all-encompassing course before high school or during their freshman year. If this option is not possible, schools should provide a time during the summer or at the start of the school year for students to meet CTAE teachers, tour each classroom, connect with professionals in the field, and experiment within the opportunities available.
When creating schedules, SWD should be allowed to participate in more than one CTAE pathway, if desired, and be able to meet all the necessary requirements from year to year in order to complete each pathway. Students who become pathway completers are more likely to graduate and find postsecondary success.
4. Connect students to real-life opportunities. The school’s schedule and curriculum must consistently provide options and time for students to experience real-life learning opportunities. Schools need to create schedules and provide adequate support for SWD to ensure that they earn required credits and complete introductory CTAE classes by freshman or sophomore year. This helps increase opportunities found in upper-level CTAE classes during their junior or senior year.
Transition coordinators and other staff members need to use their relationship-building skills to enable students to connect with guest speakers, tour college campuses, shadow community businesses, become pathway completers, and participate in work-based learning opportunities.
Students, parents, and educators can all advocate for SWD by encouraging them to actively engage in extracurricular activities, community service projects, and job opportunities. Furthermore, they can advocate by working in collaboration with CTAE staff and other school members to ensure that SWD are well represented in all school functions and programs.
The sooner and more often a student is given the opportunity to build relationships with postsecondary career or college options, the more likely that student is to believe in themselves, create realistic goals, and become successful.
In the end, it takes a coordinated web of students, guardians, education professionals, and community members to gradually build effective career and college pipelines for SWD. Just like their peers, SWD need to be actively encouraged to challenge themselves and positively impact their community.
As we approach a post-pandemic world, our education system is positioned to provide more equitable opportunities and outcomes for SWD. Educators must allow these students to have a voice in creating this positive change and be there to support them along the way.