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Collaboration at work: Perkins offers real-life transition learning

Professionals in Lesley University's transition program are gaining crucial experience working with Perkins students.

Perkins School for the Blind and Lesley University have teamed up to provide the next generation of transition specialists with the hands-on experience they need to make a real difference in the lives of students with disabilities.

Beginning in January, special education professionals enrolled in Lesley’s Transition Specialist Endorsement program were matched with transition-age students at Perkins and other schools. For eight months, they are getting an opportunity to turn academic theory into practical experience by helping to prepare those students’ transition plans.

The real-life learning opportunity is a first for the program, which was previously limited to in-person and online courses. Now, in addition to classes, the Lesley students are required to spend 150 hours working with teens and young adults.

“I was really interested in making the program more person-focused,” said Program Director Linda Lengyel, an associate professor of special education at Lesley. “Some of the most important learning is taking what you’ve been taught in class and applying it in a real-life setting.”

Students taking the transition program are required to have professional experience as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), school guidance counselor, rehabilitation counselor or similar job. When the program ends in August, they will be eligible for an endorsement offered by the state.

As trained transition specialists, they will one day help special education students determine the practical details of their futures: Where will they live? How will they get around? What jobs or volunteer opportunities suit their skills and interests?

Transition specialists are also an integral part of a student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) and meet regularly with parents and teachers to discuss a student’s progress.

“You’re all on this journey together,” said Perkins Director of Transition Services Denise Fitzgerald. “There are so many pieces when you’re planning someone’s life.”

During their visits to Perkins, Lesley students observed “person-centered” planning meetings, where Perkins students are encouraged to take an active role in creating their own transition plans. Later in the program, Lesley students used that experience to design and run a planning meeting of their own.

“It’s a vital tool to have,” said Fitzgerald. “There’s a prescribed methodology, but it’s something you learn by observing, by doing. A professor doesn’t say: ‘Here’s how you plan someone’s life.’”

When Lengyel first reached out to Perkins, she was seeking a partner to provide field-work opportunities for her students. She ended up getting even more than that when Fitzgerald agreed to be a guest lecturer for the program. In addition, several Perkins staff members enrolled to gain a better understanding of the transition process.

The mix of professionals combined with opportunities for practical, hands-on learning infused new energy into the program – which Lengyel hopes will continue for years to come.

“The partnership with Perkins really took it to a different level,” she said. “It’s become a much richer and more authentic learning experience.”

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