Written by Dr. Kelly Kapitz
Since 1958, the Marathon County Special Education (MCSE) Department has been providing specialized educational programming and related services to students with disabilities in 6 rural school districts across Marathon County:
Currently, the MCSE Department works with approximately 500 students and supervises about 100 staff to provide services in such areas as:
- Assistive Technology
- Music Therapy
- Physical/Occupational Therapy
- School Psychology
- Speech/Language Pathology
- Vision/Orientation Mobility
- …and much more.
Since the passing of the federal law currently known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, school districts have also been charged with the task of strategically and purposefully assisting students to make a smooth transition to life after high school.
In Marathon County, approximately 14% of students attending high school are students with disabilities. These students’ disabilities range from mild learning disorders to significant cognitive and physical challenges. Regardless of the hurdles that these students face, school districts form Individualized Education Program (IEP) Teams dedicated to working with these students and their families to create a roadmap to attending a technical or 4-year college, enlisting in the military, or finding a path that leads to entering the workforce directly upon graduation. These IEP plans take into consideration the interests, skills, and talents of each student and are then utilized by IEP Teams to provide relevant high school experiences and education to prepare students for their individualized post–high school goals.
Using career surveys and interviews, students are able to indicate their work interests and preferences. High schools in Marathon County often help students gain additional work skills in their preferred areas by finding and making job placements for students so they can determine if a given type of work is a good fit for them.
Additionally, families and students are given the opportunity to connect with various helpful agencies during their high school years. Often this includes working with the regional Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), where eligible students are partnered with a case manager to help them explore careers, post-secondary education, living arrangements, and work experiences. The DVR also provides connections to funding sources to help students as they obtain employment, including job coaching and training stipends. The DVR provides support to both the student and the employer by finding work that matches both the student’s interests and the business’s needs — a win-win. These supports remain with the student as long as needed throughout their life.
A small percentage of students with developmental disabilities will require additional community support to help them obtain and keep employment. (Regionally, 3% of graduating seniors will work with local agencies in partnership with school districts and parents in transitioning to employment.) A sampling of agencies serving Marathon County who can assist such populations includes:
- The Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin (ADRC-CW),
- Opportunity Development Centers (ODC), or
- Other private organizations, such as Aurora Community Services.
In collaboration with graduating seniors, IEP Teams and these organizations help find employment and training opportunities to meet the unique needs of the young adult. These transition services begin during the student’s high school experience and continue through their senior year of high school or by age 21.
For the 2020–21 school year, Marathon County Special Education and ODC collaborated on writing — and then received — a grant for $10,000 to teach courses on healthy relationships and work skills. This grant allows for staff from ODC to come into the classroom to provide instruction that helps students with vocational and life skills. Students have access to general and specially designed curricula, which provide education in:
- Money and time management
- Self-help and care skills
- Vocational training
- Independent living skills
In 2018, a Transition Readiness Grant was obtained to support job coaching and to develop job sites in several rural communities. Job development in these rural areas is essential, as employers often need support on how to utilize the skills of differently abled employees. Due to this grant award, Rural Community Conversations were held to bring schools, students, families, and employers together to discuss the many advantages of employing individuals with disabilities — including a strong work ethic, employer loyalty, and diversification of the workplace environment. ODC supports employees and employers to make the transition to work a seamless process.
Another transition support for students with disabilities is Project Search. This program gives 18- to 24-year-olds a chance to learn job skills while receiving on-the-job training. Young adults spend a full school year at a host business location studying a curriculum that focuses on work and independent-life readiness and rotating through 3 different internships in the workplace setting.
In Marathon County, Aspirus Hospital serves as a training site for our youth.
All school districts in the state are charged with the task of ensuring that students with disabilities make a smooth transition to life after high school. In Marathon County, this effort has been a cornerstone of special education services for ALL students with disabilities. In collaboration with their regional partners, high schools in Marathon County are successfully able to support these young adults in whatever may lie ahead…
If you’d like to learn more about the work that the Marathon County Special Education Department does to transition its high schoolers to higher education, the military, or the world of work, please visit our website or contact Dr. Kelly Kapitz at 715-261-1980.
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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