Support for Parents, Students in Special Education’s Summer Transition Program

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Starting high school can be a stressful time for students and parents alike. For many students that are developing social skills, such as students with communication disabilities, specifically those on the Autism Spectrum, entering high school might be more stressful for reasons other than just coursework. These students and their parents might seek additional support when preparing to enter school freshman year.

This is why High School District 211 offers a summer transitional program in conjunction with the Life and Learning Strategies program entitled “The Hidden Curriculum-Navigating the High School Environment.” The course content for The Hidden Curriculum series is based on research from leaders in the field of autism. Students and their parents are given an opportunity to attend four summer sessions to familiarize themselves with the challenges of high school, meet peers and teachers, and ease overall stresses of entering high school.

“This is for students who need to know what to expect, and we hope we provide that as best as we can,” said Mary Pat Krones, assistant director of special education in District 211. “It also gives a chance for the staff to know the students so they can identify needed supports.”

On the first evening of the summer sessions, parents are invited to a session to hear an overview of how they can best support their students during this significant transition. Students get introduced to who they should speak with if they need help, stress reduction and sensory strategies, opportunities to get involved with when school starts, and to meet students and other teachers they will interact with. They also get a chance to walk around the school, find where their classes, and become familiar with the environment they will be in when they start school. Staff members get to meet and observe students they are working with in the fall. At the end of all four sessions, there is an ice cream social where students can mingle with their peers. Parents are invited to attend this session in order to have an opportunity to learn more about what their students learned, as well as to meet the staff who worked with their students during these sessions.

“Parents are learning to navigate all of this, too,” Krones said. “This program allows them to connect with other parents and voice the same concerns, dreams, and fears they might have for their children entering high school, while also learning the keys to a successful high school experience and how they can be a great support. It’s a parents’ orientation, as well.”

Students who participate in the annual summer transition program are incoming freshmen recommended for the Life and Learning Strategies Program that is offered to special education students all four years of high school. During that program, students will learn instructional resource-based support during a 50-minute daily course. They will focus on learning to deal with challenges such as adjusting to change, regulating sensory needs, social skills, and problem-solving, and will earn .25 credits per semester of passing, with no homework or final exam. The curriculum was created by Life and Learning teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and administrators. Not every student stays in the program all four years, however, there is an opportunity to do so.

“It’s a program where there is more communication with families and support,” Krones said. “As students move through the program and get older, we start focusing and talking about the transition into adulthood. We start getting them to think about post-secondary opportunities, and we teach them to become self-advocates for their needs.”

Krones said the best part of this program, especially during the summer orientation meetings, is seeing how it helps relieve concerns of both parents and students. It’s especially great when students as questions and connect with each other about various aspects of entering high school.

“From the initial introduction on night one, to when they leave the ice cream social on night four, it’s great to see the increased level of comfort and confidence from students and the growth in that short period of time,” Krones said. “We want our students to be successful, and we want parents and students to know that we are here for them, that we have a lot of resources to offer, and we want our students to take advantage of the full high school experience. That is our goal.”