Spotlight on Janalyn Duersch, Transition Teacher

Janalyn Duersch knew as a teenager that she wanted to be a Special Education Teacher. She began her career as a staff assistant 22 years ago and after 4 years began her journey to pursue that dream. “I knew what I wanted to be when I was 14. My family friend was a special ed teacher at Logan High School and encouraged me to get a job as a staff assistant while I was in college so that I could garner experience. He helped me to get a job at Logan High. I did my degree at Utah State University and worked at Logan High simultaneously.”

Janalyn Duersch works n the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah.

Janalyn Duersch works n the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah. 

Janalyn is a teacher in the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah where her primary job is teaching students with moderate-severe disabilities ages 18-22 in a community based post high school program. She determines student needs to create plans and instruction for independent living skills, vocational skills, post-secondary education, community skills, social skills, hygiene skills and functional academics. She also delivers instruction, advocates for and links students and their families with community agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Services for People with Disabilities and The Utah Independent Living Center. Janalyn supervises staff, completes requisite paperwork (“Oh so much paperwork!”), collaborates with agencies, coordinates and creates job placements with local businesses, teams with other teachers, collects and analyzes data and disseminates information to the community.

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Disability Awareness Month

September is disability awareness month.  Here is a clip about one organization that is helping people with disabilities to get employment and post secondary education opportunities

ABC4 Utah on Disability Awareness Month

Proposed CEC Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education (DARTS)

If you are a member of the Council for Exceptional Children, please read and consider signing the petition at the link provided to include professionals who work in the arts and foster growth in that area for students with disabilities.
Dear CEC Members:

The arts have played a vital role in the lives of many students with exceptionalities. Many of us have seen the successes (e.g., students who find their own area of expertise in the arts, or students who not only complete their own artwork, but help others) and the positive behavioral changes in arts classes. It is worth noting that students with exceptionalities have been taught by arts educators before our special education laws mandated their inclusion. And, like Ginger Rogers dancing backwards in high heels, they taught our students largely without special education training. We believe it is time to officially recognize and include arts education professionals at CEC.

You can help us create a new CEC Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education (DARTS) by clicking on and signing the petition below. A Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education can bring art, music, drama, and dance/movement teachers and therapists together with special educators. A Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education is needed because there is no national professional “home” for classroom teachers who use the arts and the arts professionals who work with our students. Beyond opportunities to meet and share ideas, strategies and techniques, a Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education can offer on-line professional journals that encourage arts/special education research and share exemplary arts lessons and programs with CEC members. These journals do not currently exist. CEC is the appropriate professional “home” for these arts/special education goals and can bring in new members from many arts organizations.

For these reasons, we ask for your support for a new CEC Division of Visual and Performing Arts Education (DARTS). For discussions on this new division to move forward, we must collect signatures from CEC members who support its creation. Please follow the link below and add your signature to our petition asking the CEC Board of Directors to approve and recognize DARTS.

Thank you,

Beverly Levett Gerber and the DARTS Organizational Committee (30 members who represent special education, art, music, and theatre education and therapies, and community art organizations)

Alabama School Provides Transition to Adulthood Services

An Alabama school is providing postsecondary transition services for students with disabilities that bridge the gap between high school and college or independent living.

Horizons School was established in 1991 as an initiative of the UAB School of Education, the school is a non-degree transition program designed for students age 18 to 26 who have learning disabilities, autism and other mild handicapping conditions.

Based in Birmingham, it is the only program of its kind in the Southeast.

“When a student finishes their grade school education with either a high school diploma or a certificate of attendance but they don’t have the living skills they need for independence, there is nothing for them. That’s really frustrating because many of our students….are on the cusp of independence when they come but not quite ready to be on their own,” said assistant director Brian Geiger.

Classes taught at Horizons School range from social skills and money management to cooking, art and fitness. Advisors work closely with new students to help them set goals that will lead to greater independence as well as solve problems they encounter.

Over time, students begin to rely on others less and themselves more.

Read more here.

Horizons School website

Autism CARES Act Signed into Law – Transition to Adulthood a Major Focus

The Autism CARES Act, signed into law by President Obama, allocate 1.3 billion dollars over the next five years to autism research, early detection, and intervention, with an emphasis on transitioning to adulthood. It will also focus on life skills, employment, housing, and transportation.
Read more here.

“Jobs by June” Program Yielding Success for Transition Students


A transition program in Washington state is providing opportunities for students with disabilities in their transition years after high school with great success.

When it comes to school-to-work programs, Mike Etzell and Diane Fesler have a unique perspective.

Etzell and Fesler both work with students ages 18 to 21 with developmental disabilities, helping them to transition into the workforce.

“We’re investing in all of those students going to school, and why would we stop after kids with special needs graduate?” Etzell said.

Etzell and Fesler work with community partners to give jobs or internships to their students to help get them slowly acclimated to post-high school life during those transition years. Sometimes their students can work as little as two hours a week at a job, learning how to adjust to the adult world, with job coaches who help them through the adjustment.

Their mantra is “Jobs by June,” and they plan to work with their students throughout the year to get them ready for that.

Read more here.

Ohio Summer Program Focuses on Employment for Students with Disabilities

An Ohio organization that provides support to people with developmental disabilities, The Employment Connection (TEC), held a summer camp for high school students to help prepare them for work.

TEC recently wrapped up its summer program in which a group of high school students with developmental disabilities was able to participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program.

According to TEC, summer youth work experiences are utilized to help teach high school students vocational skills and appropriate work behaviors through career exploration and work experiences. The goal of the program is to prepare the individual for permanent employment and independence.

TEC offered a five-week program for these young men and women during the summer to teach them work skills and to help them develop a work history.

Iowa School District Approves Post High School Program for Students with Learning Disabilities

The Sioux City (Iowa) School District has approved a program that will enable students with learning disabilities the opportunity for a fifth year of high school to transition to college and career.

Eight Sioux City high school students will attend classes at Western Iowa Tech Community College when the new semester begins next week.

Throughout the year, the students, who are between 17 and 21 and have learning disabilities, will have the opportunity to expand their education and career skills through a program that offers a fifth year of high school.

The Students Utilizing Community College Educational Support Services (SUCCESS) Program, a joint effort with WITCC and Northwest Area Education Agency (AEA) was unanimously approved by both the Sioux City schools and WITCC boards on Monday.

The program gives students additional living and learning experience, said Jean Peters, director of learning supports for the Sioux City Community School District.

Read more here.

Georgia Transition Program Prepares Students for Employment

A Georgia School District’s transition program for students with disabilities is offering training for the workforce by creating partnerships with area businesses.

Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program for special needs students who are at least 18 years old and have completed the requirements to graduate. The program is funded by the Bartow County School System and partners with Cartersville Medical Center to facilitate the training experience for students who need to learn the skills necessary for entry-level positions in the community.

One of the biggest goals for the program is to educate the community regarding Project SEARCH and how it can support local businesses. The program points to its 100 percent job placement for last year’s nine students as evidence of its positive impact.

Another area of focus for Kristy Mitchell, Project SEARCH instructor, is aiding students with transportation needs. While students are in the program, they will be transported to Cartersville Medical Center by Bartow County buses. However, once they complete the program and begin to look for employment Mitchell believes the inability to drive may present a problem for students.

New Transition Guide for Parents of Special Needs Students Released, an advocacy organization for parents and professionals of students with special needs, has released a new transition guide from high school,The Journey to Life after High School: A Road Map for Parents of Children with Special Needs

….in an effort to ease the transition from high school to adulthood for children with special needs, this comprehensive guide examines the laws that impact a child with special needs, the importance of the individualized education plan, and the different paths a child with special needs can take after graduating from high school. “The Journey to Life after High School” not only provides the steps that need to be taken prior to graduation but also the preparation required for the new adult’s legal and medical rights. All of this culminates in a national state-by-state agency guide.
The third in a series of groundbreaking reports released by, “The Journey to Life after High School” is a tool to chart a child’s transition into adulthood. The guide gives an overview of what lies ahead and contains a detailed list of resources for where to go for support.
By treating the transition as a long-term process beginning in middle school, “The Journey to Life after High School” creates a road map for parents that will help organize the work and properly frame the expectations for this time.
The report can be downloaded for free by going to: -

Read more here.

Read the NPR article here.