Transition Specialists Help Students Enter the Workplace


For students with disabilities, leaving high school can be fraught with challenges. Like most teenagers, they seek to find their way in a complex world, trying to navigate college, employment, or a new place to live.

Massachusetts is trying to make this leap into adulthood less daunting with a new transition certification for special education teachers.

Maria Paiewonsky is a transition specialist at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the program director for the Transition Leadership Training Program at the university. She explains that certified transition specialists are of extreme importance in helping teenagers see positive results in the first years after graduation.

“Young people with disabilities statistically have poor post-school outcomes,” Paiewonsky notes. “Poor employment outcomes, poor post-secondary education outcomes, and difficulty accessing college or sustaining and staying in college compared to peers without disabilities.”

Paiewonsky observes that young people with disabilities often take longer to leave home and set out on their own, especially without employment. They also often have limited transportation options, making finding work and getting to college classes difficult.

The majority of students with disabilities leave high school at 18 with virtually no support or specific training or opportunities. “Partially that’s because the school personnel are trained to build on their academic skills,” Paiewonsky says, “which are important, but it’s not enough.”

According to Paiewonsky, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education has always offered transition-related professional development to its high school educators. However, many educators she meets have been doing special education work for over a decade, without any transition training.

“A majority of the people in the program have the job of transition specialist, but never had any training,” Paiewonsky points out. “They’ve simply learned on the job.”

The new transition certification is a welcome step toward professional development for these high school professionals. With this additional training, they will be better equipped to ensure that students with disabilities move into the world of adulthood with as much ease as possible.

The College of Employment Services course Principles of Career Development gives employment professionals tools to help the people they support overcome barriers like those mentioned above. Working in conjunction with transition specialists, employment professionals can help young people with disabilities on their path to a bright future.

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