Blog posts

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Utah Teacher Receives CEC Graduate Student of the Year Award

heather-raithelCongratulations to Heather Raithel, selected as the 2017 Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) Graduate Student of Year Award Recipient! She is a teacher at Utah Virtual Academy and in the Transition Masters Program at Utah State University. Heather will be honored at the CEC 2017 Convention & Expo in St. Louis, during the Student Forum on Thursday, April 20, as well as recognizes on the CEC website.

Utah Welcomes New Post-School Transition Specialist

Lavinia Gripentrog has been chosen by the Utah State Board of Education Special Education Department as the new School to Post-School Transition Specialist beginning January 31, 2017. She will replace Susan Loving who is retiring (See article on Susan Loving here).

Lavinia was formerly the Transition Specialist/Post-High Special Education Teacher and lavinia1Assistive Technology Specialist for Murray School District for the past 14 years, completed the USU masters transition specialist program at USU, was the Team Leader of the ODEP School-to-Work Pilot Project for Murray District, and Mentor Teacher for Westminster College. She was also the 2016 Utah Council for Exceptional Children Joanne Gilles Teacher of the Year!

Lavinia has a wealth of direct service and consultation experience in employment, postsecondary education, assistive technology, and independent living.

Welcome Lavinia!

Utah 2016 Transition Institute

This week Utah will host its annual Transition Institute: “Supporting Transition Planning and Building Capacity to Improve Post-School Outcomes for Students with Disabilities” at Davis Conference Center in Layton. Interspersed with content-rich learning sessions and facilitated team work sessions, LEA teams from all over the state (over 200 people!) will come together to learn how to use a national transition team planning tool, write SMART goals for transition plans and sequence transition plan actions and activities, as well as how to develop tools for evaluating plan implementation and the impact on student outcomes.
Participants who have Twitter or Facebook accounts are encouraged to post about the Utah Transition Insitute using the hashtag #uttransition

Visionary Employers “See the Light”: Disability Hiring

An increasing number of employers are beginning to “see the light” with regards to hiring people with disabilities.

Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability, has posted an article in the Huffington Post,  Retailers Can Learn From Each Other When it Comes to Disability Hiring, where she highlights the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and how some employers are stepping up.

In a race for talent, companies are now realizing that people with disabilities are a largely untapped pool that, as a result, has seen unemployment rates remain stubbornly high when compared to the general population. So when an employer the size of Starbucks plants a flag and says it is going to make this a priority, others are likely to follow.

Galzer provides examples of how retail giants like Starbucks and Walgreens have created initiatives to hire people with disabilities, whose talents bring extraordinary contributions to the workforce. Continue reading

Dr. Mary Morningstar: What Does it Take to be College and Career Ready? Improving Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities

Dr. Mary MorningstarDr. Mary Morningstar is the keynote speaker at the Transition pre-conference of the UMTSS* Connections Conference in Layton, Utah June 23 – a three day event of sessions on Leadership, Literacy and Numeracy, Behavior and Positive Behavior Supports, Transition to Career Pathways, Educating English Learners, Special Education, Effective Instruction, Tiered Intervention, Assessment and other topics.

Today’s Transition event will include many topics on preparing students for post secondary education, employment and independent living.

“Dr. Mary E. Morningstar is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas and Director of the Transition Coalition, which offers online transition professional development and resources for secondary special educators and practitioners. Her research agenda includes evaluating secondary teacher quality and professional development, culturally diverse family involvement in transition planning, and interagency collaboration. She is also examining the impact of inclusive secondary experiences for students with significant disabilities on postschool outcomes. Currently, she is developing a multi-dimensional model of adult life engagement for transition.” (

Watch the Transition Universe Facebook and Twitter feeds for updates on the conference.

*Utah Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Optimistic Outlook for Job Seekers with Disabilities

According to information in The Huffington Post, the employment situation is looking bright for people with disabilities. The focus was information from Think Beyond the Label, an outreach organization that provides resources to people with disabilities and businesses to better inform everyone of the employment possibilities.

Think Beyond the Label conducted a survey of hundreds of people with disabilities in December, 2014 on job searching.

Think Beyond the Label found that job seekers look for jobs like anyone else–90% use LinkedIn as a job search tool–but desire more targeted outreach and disability-specific job tools to help them find meaningful work. Nine out of 10 respondents say they would use a targeted job board, while three-quarters say they want to network with employers that are actively looking to hire people with disabilities.

Job seekers with disabilities can and want to work.

Businesses should take note. People with disabilities are looking to connect with you. This is the largest and most heterogeneous minority group in the U.S., with a population that ranges in age from birth to late retiree. Baby boomers, often the senior-most people in a company’s workforce, are more likely to incur disability as they age.

Food for thought.  To read more about this survey, seeking jobs, and recruiting people with disabilities, go to these sites:

Huffington Post

Think Beyond the Label survey information

Think Beyond the Label website

Student Aims to “Climb High” to Raise Funds for Scholarship

A Utah State University student who is  enrolled in “Aggies Elevated”, a progam for students with intellectual disabilities, plans to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro this summer to raise funds that would allow a student to enroll in the program.

According to the Herald Journal,

Troy Shumway, 20, is set to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in June 2015, USU announced in a news release. The fundraising goal, $40,000, is the amount it costs to fund one Aggies Elevated student, covering academic and social supports including mentors, tutors and staff.

For his fundraiser, Troy has set several creative donation levels, including a $19 donation because Mt. Kilimanjaro is more than 19,000 feet high, or $98 because Mt. Kilimanjaro is more than 9,800 miles from his hometown of San Diego.

In a prepared statement, Troy explained that he wants to offer another student the opportunities he is getting through Aggies Elevated.

“It would be great to have other kids with disabilities be able to come to college and learn to be more independent, like I did,” Troy said.

Read more here.

See Troy’s donation page here.


Spotlight on Susan Loving, Transition Specialist


Susan Loving, Transition Specialist at the Utah State Office of Education.

Susan Loving has a rich history in the field of Transition.  She has been working with transition programs since 1991, when she was assigned the responsibility of co-manager of the STUDY Project Grant (a federal systems-change grant) in Tooele School District.

I was ready for a change from providing speech-language services full time, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something different. In working with transition planning and programs, I realized that the purpose of school is to prepare students for adult life, not just to graduate them with a diploma.

Susan currently serves as the Education Specialist for Transition at the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) – Special Education Section. She admits that is a long title, so she usually says she is the Transition Specialist at the USOE. She works with school district and charter school staff, representatives of agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation and DSPD, parent groups, community and advocacy groups – any individual or group of individuals who work with and support transition-aged youth.

Susan’s responsibilities are broad in nature.

The USOE is responsible for ensuring that all eligible students attending Utah school districts and charter schools are receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate timely transition planning is part of a FAPE for a student of transition age.

To that end, Susan is charged with  providing professional development and technical assistance to educators, administrators, families, and other state and community agencies regarding transition planning, agency collaboration, etc. She says that the medium through which this is carried out varies -through a one-on-one phone conversation or site visit, an on-site training session or webinar, or a state-level activity.

Every year, states are required to report the results of state-level activities to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP); the report, titled the “Annual Performance Report”, addresses student outcomes in a variety of areas. I am responsible for reporting on Utah’s graduation and dropout rates for students with disabilities, the prevalence of complete transition plans in the IEP, and post school outcomes (engagement in education and employment/training) of students with disabilities.

Continue reading

Illinois Program Designs Disability Awareness Curricula for Students of All Ages

Students in some Illinois school districts receive early education on disability and independent living and employment, thanks to an initiative that incorporates three different curricula, implemented through the community partner “RAMP“, an Illinois non-residential Center for Independent Living. By working with school districts to incorporate these programs, barriers are being dismantled and attitudes changed about people with disabilities being successful in society.

RAMP created a continuum of services that help to strengthen and build the educational and economic success for people with disabilities.

The iBelong curriculum is designed for elementary students as young as pre-K while the Ignite curriculum is designed for middle school students. The teens in Transition curriculum (T’NT) is designed to work with teenagers as they transition to adulthood.

IBelong is taught pre-K thru through sixth grade to all students. The goal is to promote acceptance by teaching children early and consistently that we have more in common with each other than not.

Students in seventh and eighth grade who have disabilities can use the Ignite curriculum to learn more about themselves so they can become better self-advocates.

RAMP’s third curriculum is Teens in Transition. It is designed to help teenagers with disabilities prepare for their transition into adulthood. T’NT aims to increase students’ chances of becoming young adults prepared to further their education, gain employment, responsibly manage a budget and live independently in the community.

The approaches taken by RAMP have left a lasting impression on students. A Rockford teacher said: “I feel as though having RAMP and the community partners come in to teach the lessons helped the students learn about these topics better than just having the teacher teach about it.”

Read the article here.

Read more about RAMP here.