When students with special needs are ready to move beyond the high school classroom and find their place in the world, myriad opportunities await them. They can turn to the specialists at Bergen County Special Services for answers, guidance, support and assistance with every phase of the transition process.
One way BCSS assists families is through a series of transition workshops. Although many are held early in the school year, there are still upcoming programs that benefit families of transitioning students. Held in cooperation with the CAPE Center, these programs cover a variety of topics. "The series includes what supports are available in school and in the adult world," explains Andrea Vaccaro, transition specialist for Bergen County Special Services. "Our goal is to educate families and help them, always working together as a team to help make the transition successful." She notes these programs also assist parents in helping their children to become more independent. There are also programs concerning post-secondary opportunities.
For students who want to explore their career options or learn more about a specific vocation, Bergen County Special Services offers programs to meet those needs. The staff at BCSS includes transition/career development specialists with expertise in connecting schools and community-based learning programs with industries and businesses. Employment specialists help students through structured vocational programs and mentoring.
One unique opportunity offered through the BCSS Career Crossroads Program is the chance to learn about career options through internships, some of which include a salary. This type of experience allows students to gain real-world perspective while developing authentic, transferable skills. Support is available from teachers, job coaches and other specialists to ensure a successful experience.
Vocational training programs like the Paramus Workshop give adults older than 21 the chance to learn employment skills in a more structured environment. Work Readiness Instructional classes include training in advocacy, travel training, career exploration, employment preparation, person-centered planning and community supports. There is also a respite program called Live & Learn that provides information on the pursuit of recreational activities and hobbies.
Beyond BCSS, there is the Bergen County One-Stop, which is funded by the New Jersey Department of Labor and provides free services, including use of computers, FAX machines and copiers for resume preparation and employment searches.
Several programs offer the opportunity to learn the independent life skills necessary to become contributing members of the community. One such program is Stepping Stones, funded by the Division of Developmental Disabilities. It is specifically for adults with significant cognitive and behavioral disabilities. It includes experience with contract work, daily living skills and integration into the community. Participants gain life experience in areas such as handling money, shopping and attending social events.
Specialists at BCSS offer guidance and support to students who are looking to continue their education after high school. This includes assistance with the registration process for ACT and SAT tests, for which students may need special accommodations such as extended time. They also provide assistance with college and technical school visits, and help in acquiring information on specific school requirements and services.
An excellent resource for obtaining information on college-level education for those with special needs is THINK COLLEGE, an initiative of the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Through federal grants, they conduct research and provide training and technical assistance to professionals, families and students related to the post-secondary education of anyone with intellectual or other developmental disabilities. Their website offers databases to assist with the college search process, as well as numerous publications that help answer many of the questions parents and students may have about admissions, services and college life for students with disabilities.
Vaccaro points out that parents and students have to learn the difference in services offered after the transition process. "In school, it's an entitlement, but once they're out, it's an eligibility," she explains.
Upcoming programs through BCSS and the CAPE Center include three parent workshops. The first, "Bridges to Adulthood," will be held on March 28. In May, two more will be held. On May 2, a workshop will be presented on transportation and Access Link, and on May 23, the topic will be Social Security, Disability, and Medicaid.
Bergen County Special Services (and CAPE Center)
New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities
New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services
New Jersey Department of Human Services
Centers for Independent Living (Heightened Independence & Progress)
Family Support Center of New Jersey
Bergen County Community Transportation
Provides safe, scheduled transportation by drivers specially trained to assist those with disabilities
Bergen County One-Stop
Information for college-bound students with special needs