Historically, post-school outcomes (what happens once a student with an IEP has either graduated or aged-out of school) have been very poor for students who have a disability. In schools across the country, increased attention is being paid to the transition process that begins at age 16, unless the IEP team finds that planning should begin sooner. With guidance from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 and the United States Department of Education, there is a renewed emphasis on determining the student’s strengths, interests, and preferences in shaping the most appropriate plan for the student’s post-school goals. The student’s unique learning needs and other necessary accomodations are taken into account as well.
Involving students as much as possible in the development of their transition plan has been credited with increasing “buy-in” and improving implementation. Cultural considerations are equally important in ensuring that everyone is working in synchrony towards an agreed upon outcome. Student participation in their IEP meetings and transition planning from early on in the process gives many opportunities for the student to develop valuable skills in communication and collaboration. Across the spectrum of disability, there is always a meaningful way for any student to participate in these processes. These and other related skills serve as valuable leadership skills that will follow the student into adulthood and improve their chances for being successful in their post-school endeavors.
When a more formal approach is taken to developing leadership through use of a curriculum, identifying and selecting from various programs would seem at the outset to be a fairly “cut and dry” objective. Youth leadership, after all, is a common concept these days. Initial search results typically reveal that many programs across the country are geared towards meeting the needs of students with less severe disabilities. Finding programs for students with more diverse levels of disability is not as easy.
An organization in Tucson, Arizona has developed a leadership program for girls and young women. The curriculum is called Leaders for a Lifetime. According to Stephanie Parker, the founder and executive director of the Aurora Foundation, “Leaders for a Lifetime presents a research-based model of leadership development for disabled high school girls from diverse and underrepresented cultural/ethnic groups, with a history of unrecognized abilities and untapped potentials.”
The following text is from the Aurora Foundation website and explains how the program was developed:
Funded by the U.S Department of Education Women's Education Equity Act program, the foundation conducted a design-field test-redesign process of life skills, leadership development, and mentoring curricula from 2002-2004 with nearly 100 disabled high school girls in Tucson/Pima County, Arizona. These young women participated in one or more of the three program field-testings; in either an elective in-school course or out-of-school program context; and at the site of one or more of the program-related partners.
Partners were a high school in a large urban school district, one campus in a multi-campus community college, and a long-standing grass-roots community organization that assists homeless or nearly homeless high school youth to stay in school and graduate. Synthesizing the findings from extensive formative program evaluation and acquired lessons learned, we have merged the “what works” elements of the three field-tested curricula into an inclusionary leadership development model, Leaders for a Lifetime™, in process of final beta testing.
In presenting the actual findings from field testing, Leaders for a Lifetime™ examined the model’s core components, their interrelationships, and the research plan to test this model. The model’s components are important intrapersonal attributes - identity, critical thinking, optimism, resilience, and competence, and vital building blocks of leading - assessing and managing assets/resources, vision/future orientation, and leadership performance that produces manifest results and measurable outcomes for both people and organizations.
The results of our design-field testing-redesign process and the emergence of a new vision of inclusionary leadership challenge the myth-laced answers to the often unspoken and critical questions, Who can be a leader? Who should be a leader?
Parents and educators are encouraged to foster leadership skills beginning at a young age in their students who have a disability. For further information regarding the Aurora Foundation and their Leaders for a Lifetime program, visit www.planetaurora.org . Please also refer to the subject listings on the home page of the special education site along the left side for more information on developing leadership skills and the transition planning process.