District 225 transition program propels disabled students into next phase

NORTHBROOK — On a typical weekday morning, the Transition Services office in downtown Northbrook is a busy place as several students with disabilities prepare for the day.

By 8:30 a.m., saying goodbye they file out the door onto Shermer Road, going to jobs, catching busses and Metra trains, food shopping or exercising at the North Suburban YMCA.

They also attend classes at Oakton Community College, learn to budget their money and make their lunches.

Since 2005, School District 225 in Glenview and Northbrook has provided Transition Services for special education students ages 18-21 after they leave Glenbrook high schools north and south.

They have met all graduation requirements, but choose to stay in the program and receive support in education, employment and independent living before getting their diplomas.

Starting with two students in 2005, Transition Services now helps 45. Nearly 80 businesses in several villages employ the young people in cafes, restaurants, bookstores, grocery stores, food pantries, education and recreation centers and auto dealers, among others.

Some do volunteer work and take classes in preparing for college.

“What we’re doing well here is fostering our students’ post-high school goals as they stay in the community. A lot of their families want them to stay,” said Jennifer Pearson, director of special education for Transition Services and a Deerfield resident.

The creation of transition programs across the country began when data showed special education students were not performing well in jobs and college after leaving high schools.

Also, years ago people with disabilities often worked, lived and studied in programs and facilities separate from society.

In response, the Individuals with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 that oversaw how public agencies such as schools provided early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities.

In 2004, the law was amended to require a free education for each child with a disability that prepared them for further education, employment and independent living.

Paige Lipschultz, a 21-year-old with epilepsy, has worked at Crate & Barrel headquarters in Northbrook in the mailroom since she was 17.

She will receive her diploma from Glenbrook North High School upon finishing the Transition program.

“It’s good that she can stay in the community where people see her and they foster relationships,” said Paige’s mother, Beth Lipschultz.

“If they leave, they break ties to the community. Staying here keeps their momentum going,” she added.

She also explained Transition Services was less structured than high school, which taught special education students more independence.

“My daughter has a job, goes to the YMCA and creates her own day. This is how you want their adult lives to unfold, and people here look out for her. I like that,” Lipschultz said.

Pearson said finding transportation for the students getting to jobs and schools was the biggest barrier.

“We’re not in the city, so we work with them in finding PACE busses and trains or we find a job close to home,” said Pearson, a 1988 graduate of Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook.

“We visit them at job sites and talk to their bosses. We want to see how they’re doing.”

Julie McDermott, a case manager for Transition Services, said businesses enjoyed the program’s push for buying and working local.

“I was talking to the kids about where to shop and a student said he liked to buy at his job because he worked there, too,” she said.

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