Navigating Transition and Building Systems for Success

Students who are soon to leave high school often face a confusing maze of uncoordinated and disconnected systems, regulations, agencies, and information. To pave the transition path to employment and supports, the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community (IIDC) and its Center on Community Living and Careers devised the School-to-Work Collaborative research project to examine the benefits of working collaboratively with state and local agencies and to move beyond simple partnerships in order to improve transition outcomes for students.

Teresa Grossi, IIDC’s director of strategic developments, created the School-to-Work Collaborative project after facilitating and leading discussions with representatives of schools, employment providers, Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), families, and other advocacy stakeholders to promote a more seamless system of transition and collaboration. These initial discussions developed into a “white paper” for Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services and served as the design for a five-year, federally funded research project.

There are several key elements of the School-to-Work Collaborative that make it unique and set the stage for success. First, community employment providers “opt-in” to the School-to-Work Collaborative for their local community and then work together to ensure students and families receive quality services. Additionally, a single-point-of-contact “Career Coach, employed by one of the community employment providers, represents the whole Collaborative and is embedded in the school, solely focusing on employment outcomes and access to services for students/families. The Career Coach gets to know students, provides outreach to potential VRS-eligible individuals, connects families to other agencies, partners on skill training, and oversees internship or work experience sites.

Each student in the program completes a Discovery Profile which documents the attributes, strengths, preferences, interests, and support needs of the student to help identify potential internship sites as well as job development activities. Prior to their last year in high school, all students participate in internships and/or paid and nonpaid work experiences to build their resume and skillsets, and to gain real world work experience.

Schools use research-based self-determination curricula to teach students to lead and/or be more active in their Transition IEP or the employment planning process. As a part of the experience, students interview and choose their employment provider. Benefits Information Network liaisons provide benefits planning consultation to the student and family so they can learn how to best manage their finances and save for the future. Indiana’s parent training and information center helps explain how the Collaborative process works within a school, but it also provides training, raises expectations about employment, and mentors families as needed.

Through the project, Collaborative participants are learning about how to work with each other, recruit students and employers in Indiana’s rural communities as well as its large metropolitan areas, and engage a new generation and culture of students. There are a multitude of lessons learned that we can apply to other settings in Indiana and, through the AUCD network, across the nation as we work to create better transition plans and tools for young adults with disabilities as they grow into adults and become valuable members of their communities.

Learn more about the School-to-Work Collaborative schools in this video where Bryce, a student, talks about the experiences that led him to be more self-determined and higher employment expectations.

Teresa Grossi, Ph.D.

Director, Strategic Developments
Indiana Institute on Disability and Community
Indiana University