Improving Rural Transitions from Special Education to Life After High School in Marathon County

Written by Dr. Kelly Kapitz

The competition for talent that businesses in Marathon County are experiencing may have created some opportunities for students who are differently abled that didn’t exist in years past.

Some attendees of MCSE’s December 7, 2018, Rural Community Conversation in Edgar, WI.

You see, one of the challenges of connecting individuals with disabilities to employers involves demystifying the barriers that might prevent businesses from hiring these individuals. The Rural Community Conversation provided an arena to learn about one another, so students could be seen as workers first and workers who were differently abled second. Together, they each realized how they could support one another.

Brainstorming session at MCSE’s December 7, 2018, Rural Community Conversation in Edgar, WI.

In 2018, MCSE received the Transition Readiness Grant to provide funding for Project SEARCH tuition in Wausau and Marshfield, as well as a Transition Services Agreement with Opportunity Development Centers, Inc., serving Abbotsford, Athens, and Marshfield. Students who need more exposure, exploration, and practice with prospective employment options will be provided with expert job developers, coaches, and transportation services.

By providing students with job shadows and work-based internships within the community, MCSE staff anticipate those experiences will increase student employment outcomes during and after graduation. How?

  • By experiencing potential career fields (via job shadows, where they can gain insight into the culture of a business)
  • By practicing soft skills (like punctuality), specific trade skills (like reading a tape measure), and meaningful self-advocacy skills (like how to ask questions) in authentic work settings
  • By working with real co-workers, bosses, and community members

While still attending class within the safe confines of their own high school special education classroom, students will discuss and reflect on what is happening at “work” and how they can learn from these real-world employment experiences. Special education teachers will use these opportunities to build meaningful, engaging lessons for specific students in the workforce, as well as for the rest of the class.

The relationships that are built among the local businesses and school staff have the potential to be utilized for years to come. What’s more, such connections offer employers, students, and their families the opportunity to further explore the benefits of collaboration.

Businesses are in need of high-quality workers, and many of our MCSE students are eager to learn job skills.

It’s a WIN-WIN situation for all involved!

Connections are also made for students with disabilities who want to pursue post-secondary education — especially with our willing partners at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.


Our MCSE high school teachers facilitate success by assisting students with the application process, by attending career and program exploration days together, and by helping familiarize students with the Disability Services Center at the school.

But even with the best transition services in place, there are still going to be some additional barriers. Marathon County Special Education will continue to work to build bridges for students by applying for the Transition Readiness Grant for the 2019–2020 school year with an emphasis on transportation funding and customized community employment.

Sara Schueller represented Opportunity Development Centers, Inc., and Laura Plummer represented Wisconsin Educational  Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at the Transition Improvement Planning (TIP) Fair held August 15, 2018, bringing together community agencies and school personnel.

Rural transition CAN work.

There may be fewer resources to draw from these days, but that means we need to make more connections to assist us in our goal!

KellyKapitzKelly Kapitz, PhD

Director  |  Marathon County Special Education Department

Dr. Kelly Kapitz has been involved in rural education for over 30 years. She began her career as a school psychologist and later entered administration as a Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Marathon County Special Education Department. She received her PhD in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her dissertation and particular area of interest is transition services to students with disabilities. She has served on several state and local taskforces related to providing high-quality educational services to rural students. Dr. Kapitz serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services. She and her husband have three children and enjoy tending their apple orchard and traveling. Email Dr. Kelly Kapitz.

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