Service agencies help disabled students transition from school

Friday, November 20, 2009
Emily Oliveira, right, explains disability support services options at Southeast Missouri State University while Laura Cox, left, signs for a hearing-impaired student Thursday during a breakout session of the Transition Fair at the Career and Technology Center in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

With a sign language translator just over her shoulder, Susan Hekmat went over the basics of a job interview.

"If they say your appointment is at 4, it's not at 4:01 or 4:30. It's at 4," said Hekmat, a special education consultant at the Southeast Regional Professional Development Center.

She also talked about common interview questions, what to take to an interview and who to use as references.

"Most people ask you for three references, people who can recommend you for a job," she said, naming teachers, Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders.

The presentation was part of a transition fair Thursday at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center hosted by the development center and Local Administrators of Special Education. The event, aimed at disabled high school students, presented resources to prepare them for life after high school.

Jacqueline Huston, 18, knits a scarf at the Central High School booth on School-Based Enterprises Thursday, November 19, 2009, as part of the Transition Fair at the Career and Technology Center in Cape Girardeau. More than 350 students from regional high schools took part in the event, which offered advice on subjects ranging from social security help to entering the working world. (Kit Doyle)

The fair drew about 350 students from 23 school districts stretching from Farmington to Kennett. The event, in its third year, became more structured, said Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, associate superintendent of the Jackson School District. Students attended scheduled information sessions regarding topics like higher education, Social Security and entering the work force.

The fair is usually in the spring, but Emmendorfer said organizers moved it to the fall so students could have the school year to digest the information.

"They go back and still have half of a school year to work on transitions," she said.

Community and service agencies also set up booths to distribute information about their services. Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, the Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment and Shawnee Community College were among the 25 attending organizations.

Emmendorfer said students leaving high school need to know where to get assistance, whether for job training, disability services in college or living assistance.

Building confidence is a major part of the transition, said Brooke Watson, a marketing representative for New Vision Counseling in Cape Girardeau.

"A lot of them are a little nervous because they've always been helped and now they're on their own," she said.

She said students work with counselors to become more self-sufficient.

Finding adaptable employers is also a challenge, said Julie Hopkins, a case manager for SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence.

"They don't always find employers that are willing to work with them," she said.

She said the organization is developing an employment mentoring program to help students build resumes, develop interview skills and find employment.

Bonnie Propst attended the fair with her son Cameron Propst, a senior at Meadow Heights High School. She said he has a central auditory processing disorder, a hearing disability that makes it difficult for him to focus. It was originally diagnosed as attention deficit disorder, and resulted in ear tubes and two reconstructive ear drum surgeries.

She said she is worried about how he will continue his education, but the fair gave her tips on college entrance exams and how he can earn supplemental income through a Social Security program.

"I think he's leaning more toward technical school," she said.

abusch@semissourian.com

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