Grant $$

(Harlan, Ky.) – The transition from high school to post-secondary education or the workforce can be a challenging experience for all students, but for students with special needs, it can be even more complex. Students may face unique challenges in terms of academic, social, and emotional preparation for the demands of post-secondary life. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that students are well-prepared for the transition to increase their chances of success.

As a result of $150,000 grant funding from the Kentucky Department of Education, the Harlan Independent Special Education Department is taking steps to ensure students from Harlan High School have even more support as they explore career development options and begin the transition into the workforce.

In partnership with the Office of Special Education & Early Learning (OSEEL), Harlan Independent participated in a self-assessment process to determine areas of focus. Founded on research-based predictors of post-secondary success Harlan High students will get additional support and emphasis will be placed on career development in the area of Career & Technical education.

Board members unanimously approved the creation of a Postsecondary Transition Program Coordinator/Instructor position to lead this work in recent board action. Director of Special Education, Shannon Lawson, noted “One of the key factors in post-secondary transition success for high school special needs students is early planning. The transition process should begin as early as possible to allow career shadowing and exploration as early as the freshmen year. This includes working with parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to identify the student's strengths and interests, as well as any areas where they may need additional support. Once this information is gathered, a plan can be developed to help the students prepare for the transition to post-secondary life and seek out local partnerships to equip them with meaningful experiences.”

Lawson shared with board members the funding provided would allow the district to expand the efforts already being made for students. Developing community partners is a time-consuming process and planning for implementation with students will require a great deal of coordination. The new coordinator position will be housed at Harlan High School but will work with a variety of students and partners.

Superintendent C.D. Morton expressed his appreciation for the grant funding and noted the work falls in line with the district’s effort to expand career pathways for students. “Based on the results of the latest Kentucky Summative Assessment, our Postsecondary readiness scores for our students were extremely high, but it is essential to recognize that true post-secondary success is not only measured by academic achievement but also by the ability to live independently and participate fully in the community. Therefore, it is important to provide students with opportunities to develop practical life skills to help them transition successfully to post-secondary life. With a growing special education population and a strong commitment to community engagement in our schools, this additional resource is going to really impact student success.”

Morton went on to say, “We believe in all students, post-secondary education can be challenging for students with special needs, but with careful planning, self-advocacy skills, social and emotional support, and practical life skills, these students can achieve success in their post-secondary pursuits. It is the responsibility of parents, teachers, and community members to work together to ensure that these students are given the tools they need to succeed.”