FMHS showcases special needs transition programs

A family speaks with Brock Anderson and Eva Castillo of Hope Haven Corp. of Burlington about services the group provides during Transition Services Night Wednesday at Fort Madison High School. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – In an effort to help prepare students with special needs for high school and beyond, the Fort Madison High School brought six groups in Wednesday to speak with parents and students about accessible services.

Parents, staff, and representatives from Van Buren Job Opportunities, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation, Hope Haven Corporation, and Job Corps were on hand to speak with parents in the High School Media Center.

Malissa Nelson, a special education teacher at the high school said staff changed the format of the event this year.

“We do this at least every fall and spring and it used to be a presentation to parents in a group structure,” she said. “But this year we went to this structure so parents and students could get one-on-one time with staff and some of the groups.”

Nelson said the format also gives families a little sense of privacy in discussing specific issues.

“A lot of times when you have a big group session, parents and students with IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans) or 504s don’t want to discuss their situations openly and don’t want people knowing their circumstances,” she said. “This format gives them some privacy.”

Van Buren Job Opportunities was at the transition night for the first time. Nelson said Van Buren places students and adults with special needs in the work place environment.

“This program allows the students to taste that success. That can be in the form of many opportunities through coaching or independent work. The hours vary so they are very flexible,” Nelson said.

Julie Garcia, an employment specialist with Van Buren, said she was happy the school called and asked them to be represented.

“I’ve worked with other schools in our six-county service area and this is the first time we’ve been asked to come. It’s nice because we can help with job identification and training even after high school ends,” she said.

Van Buren finds jobs within the communities of the schools. In addition, they do job coaching, assessments, and training.

“A lot of times we’re job coaching with a student close to 100% of the time when they first start a job, but then it’s our hope that once they get settled in, we take more of an assessment role and check on them periodically so they have that independence,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the turnout was the highest she’s seen at a transition night.

Nelson said Hope Haven has a variety of programs including work-based programs. She said Job Corps is a federally-funded program that is designed to get special needs students workforce ready.

“It’s a government-funded program and they can get a free education, but there are some stipulations and standards they have to meet. It’s a great opportunity for students who aren’t necessarily college bound, but need to learn a trade to be successful out of high school,” Nelson said.

Hope Haven is a non-profit organization that provides vocational, residential and community employment as well as living services for mentally and physically challenged persons in southeast Iowa.

Nelson said in the future, the school would like to invite employers who might be willing to work with the students to attend the session.

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