APS Column: Austin Public Schools Transition Program prepares students for the next chapter

Published 5:32 pm Friday, March 29, 2024

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By Sheri Willrodt

Executive Director of Special Services

At Austin Public Schools, our vision is to prepare all learners to make a difference in the world. For some of our students with disabilities, this vision is realized through the Austin Transition Program.

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The ATP focuses on the five transition areas: Post-Secondary, Employment, Independent Living Skills, Community Participation, and Recreation and Leisure. It’s for students with disabilities that have met the academic requirements to graduate, but the IEP team decided that there are transition skills that need to be addressed before they can receive their diplomas.

The focus and motto of the program is to “Live as independent a life as possible, whatever that may look like.” Some students may go on to live in some sort of a supported living environment and others may stay in the home with their parents. The focus of the ATP program is for students to learn as much self-independence as possible regardless of ability.

Throughout the school year, various providers of supports and services are invited to talk about what they can offer in terms of assistance to persons with disabilities. Examples include Health and Human Services, Vocational Rehab Services (VRS), Cedar Valley Services, Southeastern Minnesota Center for Independent Living (SEMCIL), Semi-Independent Living Services (SILS), Adolescent and Adult Rehab Mental Health Services (AARMHS), SEMCAC, and SMART Bus. Most of the students begin receiving services from VRS when they first arrive to ATP as they are important for their employment plan.

The class starts their day at Riverland Community College, where they receive lessons addressing all transition areas. Some lessons and activities include resume building, filling out applications, working on cover letters, interviewing, soft-skills in the community and in the workplace, relationship building, healthy relationships, healthy eating, healthy living, budgeting, cooking, shopping, hygiene, organizing living spaces, time management, self-advocacy, digital citizenship, disability awareness, disability disclosure, emotional regulation, different supports and services that exist for persons with disabilities, and post-secondary options.

Later in the morning, the class members are placed at various job sites throughout the community with support from our work experience coordinator and job coaches.

The program also spends a percentage of their time visiting and volunteering at different places in the community, which satisfies both community participation and Rec and Leisure transition areas. This gets the students more familiar with Austin and what Austin has to offer. Some examples of these volunteer opportunities include the Austin Public Library, various banks, Todd Park, the Hormel Nature Center, the Austin Fire Department, the Hormel House, the SPAM Museum, Sweet Reads, the YMCA, and the Mower County Recycling Center.

The experiences attained through the Austin Transition Program help many of our students with disabilities to live more independently and realize the district’s vision of making a difference in the world.