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West High program helps special needs students transition

The West High Transitions Program focuses helping special needs students who have met their graduatirequirements but are not ready effectively

The West High Transitions Program focuses on helping special needs students who have met their graduation requirements, but are not ready to effectively transition to community life. | Submitted

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Feb. 12 — Hispanic Parent Academy l, 6 p.m., West High room A106

Feb. 13 — Hispanic Parent Academy ll, 6 p.m., West High room A106

Feb. 18 — No School — President’s Day

Feb. 19 — Board of Education meeting, 6 p.m., West High Library

Updated: April 5, 2013 11:42AM

The adjustment from being a full-time high school student to living and working in the community is not easy for anyone. It’s especially tough for graduates who have special needs.

That’s why the West High Transitions Program focuses on helping special needs students who have met their graduation requirements, but are not ready to effectively transition to community life.

The four major focus areas of the program are employment, education, training and independent living skills. There are more than 55 students enrolled in three program locations — West Aurora High School, Hope Wall School and the Vaughan Athletic Center.

“Students are taught that they can make it in the real world and that they have skills to offer within the supports of their daily lives,” said Laura Brady, a teacher in the West Transitions Program.

“Students experience independent living skills with hands-on experiences. Examples of these are: time management, vocational training with adult supports, meal planning, money and budgeting, shopping in the community, everyday household tasks, and finding their way in the community using public transportation.”

The students’ placement is determined by the level of support they need, she said.

For example, students who need to acquire and practice the skills needed in the work world and for independent living and want to go to a community college would enroll in the Vaughn program. Students who have goals of independent living, social skills training and vocational training with adult supports would enroll in either the Mock House program at the high school or the Hope Wall independent living classrooms.

“In recent years, there has been an increase in student enrollment for transition services,” Brady said. “To accommodate this need, West Aurora High School opened a new Mock House classroom this year. This is an independent living classroom for students who need additional support with an emphasis on building maturity and independence.”

Students incorporated the skills they’ve been learning when they planned and conducted the first-ever Christmas Luncheon for West Aurora High School diversified staff members in December. The adult support students planned the menu, did the advertising, sold tickets, shopped for the menu, prepared the food, made the decorations, served the food and even planned for a live musical performance by a band that included a transition student.

Brady teaches in the independent living classrooms. She also serves as a case manager and helps maintain goals and objectives for 10 students with disabilities. This includes contacting parents on a regular basis and maintaining relationships with all related service providers, such as occupational, physical and speech therapists, a social worker and a vocational coordinator.

“I am a parent of an adopted daughter with special needs,” she said. “She is my primary source of inspiration because she has overcome much because she has the support of family, schools, church and community.”

Her daughter is 24 years old, has worked at Target for six years and lives at home, but hopes to live on her own with a roommate someday.

“I try to think of each individual student as I do with our daughter,” she said. “I get creative in using resources within the community to maximize training efforts, and student self-esteem and self-worth. It is amazing to watch them become more and more confident in their ability to be independent. I just love what I do, and feel really blessed to have this opportunity.”

Mike Chapin is the community relations director for West Aurora School District 129. Contact him
at 630-301-5044 or

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