BREWER – High school seniors with disabilities need to plan for moving into adulthood. Though most parents aren’t aware of it, there is a local program designed to help.
“A young person with disabilities often needs assistance making the transition,” Cindy Tuck, transition coordinator for Maine Transition Network, Region 3-Penquis, said Thursday. “Our program is set up to help the youth to take as much responsibility as possible.”
The School to Life program, which starts this month and will run throughout the school year, offers local students, parents and teachers an opportunity to learn about programs and services available to assist those with disabilities.
“Each program and each agency statewide has its own set of rules,” Tuck said.
The Maine Transition Network hosts the monthly School to Life meetings, held on the second Wednesday of every month at the Alpha One conference room at 1048 Union St. in Bangor. The first meeting is Oct. 11 and will be an introduction to transition planning.
The free program, funded in part by the Maine Department of Education, covers employment, education, community participation, health services, housing and support and legal services.
Maine Transition Network is a statewide system for coordinating programs related to school-to-community transition for young people with disabilities, ages 14-26.
There are six regions in Maine, and each offers similar transition programs, Tuck said.
Region 3-Penquis encompasses communities within Penobscot and Piscataquis counties and in years past, residents from Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Hermon, Old Town, Howland and Lincoln have participated.
The topic for each monthly School to Life meeting is different.
“You pick and choose what [meetings] you want to go to,” Tuck said. “For example, those interested in postsecondary education should attend the January meeting.”
Parents should begin thinking about life after high school when students turn 14, and education is the key to success, said Lynne Miles, Hampden Academy special education teacher.
“All of the sudden the kids are 18 and they don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said. “The child as well as the parents will benefit greatly by educating themselves as early as possible.”
Maine Transition Network also offers a Youth Leaders’ Club that meets monthly and is a way for students with disabilities to meet friends.
“It’s created a social outlet for kids who have a very difficult time finding appropriate activities to do in the afternoon,” she said. “It really builds their confidence, and it gives them the opportunity to develop a group of friends in the area that have similar needs and interests.”
Students involved in both programs show marked improvements in school performance and in their self-confidence, Miles said.
The leadership club combines fun with education, Tuck said. For example, the October gathering, set for 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, is a tour of the Orono Bog Boardwalk.
Karen Cole, parent of Faith, a 17-year-old senior at Bangor High School with special needs, said the programs have changed her once-timid child into a blossoming young adult.
“It allowed her to grow up socially because she was with peers like herself,” Cole said. “She was quite shy.”
The School to Life program has helped Faith with her plans for after graduation and the Youth Leaders’ Club has given her a social life, Cole said.
“It’s helped her learn she can make decisions for herself,” she said of her daughter. “Right now we’re talking about colleges.”
A complete list of the Maine Transition Network programs is available from special education teachers and directors at any local school, by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling the office at 992-2270.