By: Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S
With Spring right around the corner, eighth grade students will begin to prepare for a transition to a new building. For students on IEPs, this means shifting to a new team and planning for supports that will help your child adapt and thrive in a new setting with different adults and expectations. Eighth grade IEP transition meetings tend to begin in March or April after students have had exposure to courses that are required and available in their ninth grade year. For many eighth grade students in special education, the transition meeting is one of the first IEP meetings they are invited to participate in. How can we help middle school students to prepare for and engage in this meeting?
Participating in IEP meetings is a great way for eighth grade students to build self-determination skills. Self-determination is a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that help an individual gain autonomy and allows them to set their own goals, make thoughtful decisions, and manage their own life. Research has shown that for students with disabilities, this set of skills leads to both more positive adult outcomes (employment, higher wages, better living situation) and a higher quality of life (increased satisfaction, community engagement, independence, and productivity) Wehmeyer & Schwarz, 1997. For the middle school student craving independence, this can be the perfect time to build and strengthen this set of skills. We can prepare students to engage in their IEP meeting in a multitude of ways.
- Familiarize your child with their IEP, including their disability, what teachers do to help in (or outside of) the classroom as well as the goals that they have been working on with special education teachers or related personnel.
- Ask for the agenda ahead of time and review how the meeting will run and what adults will be present. It might be helpful for special educators/related service providers to demonstrate a “mock IEP meeting” to allow a safe space for students to ask questions and plan for or rehearse how they’d like to participate.
- Use visual maps or outlines to summarize their current transition planning forms. Their vision will help them develop the questions they’d like to ask high school staff. Examples of these types of questions might include: What classes in robotics or coding are available, and when can I take those? Is there a debate team, and how can I be a part of that? How do I join one of the after-school clubs? How do I make sure that a digital art class fits in my schedule?
These same maps can be used to discuss what kinds of academic support will they need with the type and level of classes they are
choosing. While students will have academic supports built into their service delivery, it can also be helpful to know about any additional high school academic supports, such as a writing center, student mentoring, career exploration opportunities, etc.
- If your child tends to have difficulty adapting to or has anxiety around change, students should work with team members to brainstorm supports that might be helpful in making the transition to high school more successful. Cueing students to think back to previous changes or first days of school can help them initiate this task. Students might request to meet with their point person before the end of their eighth grade year, participate in a small group or personalized tour of the new building/campus, identify someone who can help the student navigate the cafeteria on the first few days or maybe identify an alternative lunch space. Additionally, students might want to ask if there are programs happening over the summer in the high school building that will help the student acclimate to their new school before the start date.
After the transition meeting is over, it can be helpful for students and family members to create a chart that outlines the student’s questions and who their point person would be. For example, if I have a question about my schedule, I should find Mr./Mrs. ______. This chart should also include their email and list where their office can be found in the building. Empowering students to use this reference guide with guiding questions even before the year ends will further strengthen both their self-advocacy and self-determination skills.
About the Author
Kristen Simon, M.Ed, Ed.S, has worked with transition-aged youth as a licensed School Psychologist for more than a decade. She has extensive experience working with children and adolescents with a range of learning and social/emotional abilities. Kristen’s strengths lie in her communication and advocacy skills as well as her strengths-based approach. She is passionate about developing students’ self-awareness, goal-setting abilities, and vision through student-centered counseling, psychoeducation, social skills instruction, and executive functioning coaching. Mrs. Simon has particular interests working with children and adolescents on the Autism spectrum as well as individuals working to manage stress or anxiety-related challenges.
Mrs. Simon is an expert evaluator and observer who has extensive working knowledge of the special education process and school-based special education services, particularly in Massachusetts. She has been an integral part of hundreds of IEP teams and has helped to coordinate care, develop goals, and guide students and their families through the transition planning process. Mrs. Simon further has special expertise helping students to learn about their diagnoses and testing and the IEP process in general. She enjoys assisting students, families, and educators in understanding a student’s disability-related needs as well as the strategies that can help the student to be successful in both academic and nonacademic settings. Mrs. Simon has often been a part of teams in the years when students are initially participating in transition services, and she has helped countless students to build the skills necessary to be part of their first team meetings. She is committed to teaching students—as well as parents and educators—how to participate in student-centered team meetings and the IEP processes.
At NESCA, Mrs. Simon works as a transition specialist and psychoeducational counselor. She works with adolescents, their families, and their school communities to identify and build the skills necessary to achieve their postsecondary goals. Mrs. Simon provides transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations, and observations), program observations and evaluations, case management and consultation, and individualized counseling and skills coaching.
To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s transition specialists, please complete our online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.