Transition program provides skills

Theresa Montgomery

Punching the clock means more than a paycheck for some students working on campus. And they’re not even in college yet. High school students from the area who have disabilities are also learning on the job.

The Kent State Transition Program, run through the Center for Innovation in Transition and Employment in White Hall, splices its services with those of high schools, government agencies and employers in the community to form a coordinated support network for students with disabilities as they prepare for employment.

Thirty area high school students with disabilities come to work on campus up to four times a week as part of the individual education plans at their school, program coordinator Gina Metz said.

Working on campus at places like the Hub, the Ice Arena and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, students in the Transition Program run into situations they’ll have to know how to handle after they graduate from high school, Metz said.

“If you have a problem, who do you go to? If you’re going to be late, who do you call?” Metz said. “They’re learning job-specific skills, social skills, how to work with supervisors and how to accept new ways of doing things.”

The program currently has students working at 17 sites on campus, Metz said.

“We’re always looking for new sites to help our students learn,” she said. “We do try to get the position here as close to their end goal as possible.”

Each participant is assisted by a Kent State graduate student, called a transitions coordinator. Working together with the student, his or her teachers, vocational counselors and others, the transitions coordinator matches the goals and needs of each participant with a job site on campus. The graduate students are studying to be special educators, vocational rehabilitation counselors and related occupations, Metz said. The program helps them gain experience working with clients.

Max, who has cognitive impairments, is a senior at Hudson High School. Through the Transitions Program, he works in the audio visual services department in the Main Library.

“I clean tables, rewind videos, take out the recycling and clean computers,” Max said. “I like all of them.”

Max’s work ethic isn’t lost on his boss.

“He knows exactly what has to be done and just goes and does it,” John Nader, a copier technician who supervises Max and two Kent State students.

“There’s several times I’ve said, ‘Max, don’t you want to take a break?’ He says, ‘Nope. Just want to work,'” Nader said. “If all my students were as good as Max, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

Brian Harris, a graduate student in special education, is a transition coordinator for Max and others in the Transitions Program.

“I learn various strategies for interacting, because all of the students are so different – particularly nonverbal clients when they can’t tell you what they need,” Harris said. “The last thing we want to do is do it for them.”

John Wachovec, a work study coordinator for Summit County Educational Center, connects local high schools with the Transition Program.

“The high school students benefit, and the Kent State students benefit,” Wachovec said. “There are times when a classroom setting can be sort of artificial. This takes that theoretical information and makes it very real.”

Wachovec said the coordinated effort among schools and agencies is crucial to making sure participants are getting what they need. The real focus is on the student, he said.

“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “It just so happens that it works so well with the people working together to run the program.

“I think the program speaks for itself,” Wachovec said. “There are so many students who are just so much more capable as a result of taking part.”

Contact College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].