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Special Education and School Psychology Students Team Up at Myrtle Beach Conference

Dr. Edwin Achola Presenting

Dr. Edwin Achola Presenting
Credit: Heller Photography, Attleboro, MA

Alison Underwood Presenting

Alison Underwood Presenting
Credit: Heller Photography, Attleboro, MA

Five School Psychology students and five Special Education students joined professors Dr. Edwin Achola and Dr. Kristin Powers at the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from October 20th to October 22nd. DCDT is an annual conference that draws educators from across the country to share information about current practices in career development and post-secondary transition for students who are in special education. Career development and transition are two of the most important topics for educators to be informed about, because they are crucial to the life-long success of students in special education when they graduate from high school.

All ten students are grant scholars, who are working on a grant titled “An Interdisciplinary Project to Promote Culturally Responsive Transition Policies, Planning and Practices" funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, joined their professors for an hour-long presentation about the work they have been doing. Through the grant, School Psychology scholars and Special Education scholars work together to implement innovative and culturally responsive transition practices at Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) high schools. Specifically, the scholars work with students in special education to improve their post-school outcomes, such as career and college readiness. Additionally, they work with teachers and school staff to improve practices related to post-high school transition. The scholars earn $13,000 per year as a stipend for their time working on the grant.

During the presentation, the students shared the benefits of working on an interdisciplinary grant, their experiences with family collaboration, and the newest research on culturally responsive transition planning. In addition to participating in their own presentation, the grant scholars were able to attend lectures from notable researchers in the field such as Michael Wehmeyer and Karrie Shogren. The presentations addressed a range of topics on post-secondary transition for students with disabilities, including career readiness, self-determination skills, transition assessments, and extracurricular activities. In particular, the scholars enjoyed a presentation from their very own professor, Dr. Edwin Achola. In Dr. Achola’s discussion of diversity from an asset-based perspective, he reminded the audience that when approaching issues of diversity in education, it is crucial to look at a family’s strengths rather than only looking at potential problems.

In reflection of their time at DCDT, grant scholars expressed the following about their experiences:

Jasmine Otero: “DCDT is a great opportunity for me to stay current in the field of special education, specifically with transition. One of my main take always was learning about current research with improving college and career readiness for students with significant learning disabilities, which is a topic that I do not often hear about. “

Emily Chaddock: “I received an RtI [Response to Intervention] menu of behavior interventions that I plan to use in my career. I learned about less traditional employment options for students with disabilities, such as hospitals and national federation programs. I also learned about a certificate program's self-determination program for students with disabilities on a college campus that involves setting small goals and achieving those goals: We will try to incorporate concepts learned from this presentation into the Adult Community Transition Program (ACT) classroom on CSULB's campus.”

Rebecca Meastas: “I enjoyed being exposed to and informed on the different programs that other states provided for their children with disabilities that we do not have in California. The poster presentations were also very informative and allowed for a different experience for us to walk around and inquire about each presentation.”

Marilyn Estrada: “I enjoyed going to the different presentations at DCDT and knowing what is currently going on in my field. I also enjoyed listening to the stories of the key speaker because they provide me with an insight to what it's like to have or have a family member with a disability. The insight I got from hearing their stories is something I would have never gotten from just reading a journal article.”

Undoubtedly, the conference was an enriching experience that allowed the scholars to explore new developments in the field of special education transition, as well as practice their own presentation skills.

Group Picture, from left to right: Top row- Joel Ledezma, Kristin Lomeli, Rebecca Meastas, Matthew ReCasino, Jasmine Otero, Dr. Kristin Powers, Dr. Edwin Achola, Sidney Boman, Emily Chaddock

Group Picture, from left to right:
Top Row: Joel Ledezma, Kristin Lomeli, Rebecca Meastas, Matthew ReCasino, Jasmine Otero, Dr. Kristin Powers, Dr. Edwin Achola, Sidney Boman, Emily Chaddock
Bottom Row: Alison Underwood, Marilyn Estrada, Joanna Alvarez