Transition Summit offers resources programs, assistance and advice to parents of special needs students

October 20, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Parents of students with disabilities concerned about their children's transition from high school to life as an adult learned Thursday night that their children have options.

Berkeley County Schools' fifth Transition Summit was held at James Rumsey Technical Institute with a "hoped for" attendance of 200 parents and students, said Sallie Askin, the district's transition coordinator.

More than 200 people attended the summit last year, she said.

Rumsey's cafeteria was crowded with agency and school representatives offering resources, programs, assistance and advice to parents and students.

Among them were the Potomac Center, Stepping Stones Cottages, REM community Options, The Berkeley County Work Exploration Program, ARC of West Virginia, Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University, the Parent Educator Resource Center, Horizon Goodwill, plus post secondary education campuses like Hagerstown Community College, Mountain State University, West Virginia Autism Center and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.

Many families are facing the realization that their child will be graduating soon and they need some type of support or services to help them go into training, employment or just learn how to participate in their communities, Askin said.

"This summit shows parents some of the resources, agencies and schools that are available to help their children," she said. "Students with disabilities who can advance themselves always do better in life."

A special feature Thursday was a program by Unbreakable Drive, a group of three speakers who delivered a message about the possibilities that life can bring when someone has passion, determination and motivation.

The summit was open to parents and students in Jefferson and Morgan counties, too.

Siblings Joshua and Sarah Weisenburg of Inwood, W.Va., attend Musselman High School. Both are autistic.

Joshua, 18, a senior, will graduate in June. He wants to go to college to study archaeology, a subject he has been interested in since a young boy, his mother, Luann Weisburg said. "He was always digging in the dirt," she said. "I lost a lot of spoons."

She encourages her son to follow his dream, but wants him also to continue to learn carpentry, his other interest, "so he has something to fall back on."

She spent a lot of time Thursday talking to the Social Security representative now that Joshua is eligible for benefits.

Sarah, 17, a Musselman junior, enjoys going to work through her school's Work Exploration Program. Her goal is to get a job after graduation.

William and Stacey Grantham of Martinsburg, W.Va., were there for William, their 14-year-old autistic son, who is a Hedgesville High School freshman.

William has been a Hedgesville School District's special needs student since kindergarten, "from school bus aides to the lunch ladies," his mother said.

His biggest worry is not being able to graduate with his class in 2015, his father said. "He wants to follow his three older brothers, all Hedgesville High graduates."

Students with disabilities can earn a standard diploma in four years. They can also stay in high school until they are 21 and earn a modified diploma, William Grantham said.

"There are a lot of opportunities for William out there," his mother said.

"One of the greatest gifts we received is having our son in this wonderful school district. We couldn't ask better for William," his father said.

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