We’ve Come a Long Way Over 40 Years
By Maggie Horsnell Masimore
“The sweetest thing just happened!!!! Many of you all know Claiborne works a few days at Kroger and just loves it!! It’s the perfect job for her and her needs. I had to quickly run in to grab some things and witnessed her bagging an older lady’s groceries. I stopped to watch her for a minute. Claiborne was kind of moving slow putting the bags in the cart. The lady was so patient and appreciative of Claiborne. After all the bags were in the cart ready to go, She leaned over to Claiborne and said to her how proud she was of her great work and thanked her and gave her a $1 tip!!!! Claiborne hugged her & smiled!
“How amazing it is to know there are kind loving people and to see this happen to my sweet sister was so awesome!!! THANK YOU to whoever you were, for being so thoughtful of people who may have special needs!”
A recent Facebook post
Forty plus years ago when I entered the field of special education, a scenario like this would have been unheard of. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was first enacted, under the name of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act or PL 94-142, most people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) had no access to public education, much less an expectation of employment. Transition planning and post-secondary goals were not mentioned in the original law. Having witnessed and participated in the evolution of special education since that time, I was touched on several levels by this recent Facebook post.
Claiborne Ralph is a young woman who recently completed the Community Based Transition Program, for students ages 18-22, in Metro Nashville Public Schools. Her mother, Elizabeth, and I have been friends for several years and periodically get together with another mom, Brooke, to catch up on each others’ lives. Through the many stories and occasional photos shared by Elizabeth, I’ve followed Claiborne’s transition journey, and, for a while, even worked as her volunteer job coach in the nursery at the Green Hills YMCA. Brooke is the mother of 3 young boys who are all “in the spectrum.”Her three young sons are as different as night and day but all share the diagnosis of autism. At 11, one son will be entering middle school this fall and is not too far from the age of transition planning. Over many dinners and glasses of wine, Brooke, Elizabeth and I have spent much time talking about transition, employment and dreams of an inclusive community for our kids. The post above by Claiborne’s sister, Lucy, reminded me of all those discussions.
It was so exciting to read this anecdote from a moment in Claiborne’s day and reflect on the progress she has made. I smiled as I remembered how she had struggled to separate her duties from the fun stuff she wanted to do, like reading on her own in the book corner or running to the door to greet a friend passing down the hall. Learning to stay focused on the immediate task was a huge step for her. From Lucy’s post, Claiborne’s attention to task has greatly improved!
About the Author
Retired after 30 years in the education of children and youth, Maggie has been an independent education consultant for the past 10 years. She previously worked in the Metro Nashville Public Schools in a variety of positions, including the Director of Special Education. A primary focus during her tenure with Metro Schools was to build collaborative relationships with parents, advocates, related agencies, universities and the school district.
Maggie has served on several non-profit boards and community task force groups, including the Board of Directors of The Arc Davidson County and the Nashville Mayor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Education. She has spent her career helping to build better services and supports for people with disabilities in education, employment and the community. Maggie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Elizabeth and husband Will, there was never any doubt that Claiborne would grow up and have a job. Born in 1991, Claiborne entered school services shortly after transition planning was added to IDEA. By the time she reached high school and her transition years, great strides had been made in both the transition process and the employment of people with developmental disabilities. Working toward that goal became a serious focus for Claiborne and her parents, both in school and in the community. Outside of school, like her siblings, Claiborne was expected to volunteer in the community. One favored volunteer position was as an assistant in a Sunday School class for young children, something she greatly enjoyed.
After four years of high school, her team agreed she was ready for the Community Based Transition Program, and Claiborne started her transition placement. Through participation in a number of work sites and community experiences, Claiborne and her team learned much about what worked and what did not work, what she liked and what she did not like at all. Over time, Claiborne and her family began to understand her skill, interests, and challenges, and to find a balance that worked for her. For example, her love of young children put working in a nursery or day care setting at the top of her job wish list. However, after trying it for a while in a couple of different settings, Claiborne and her team decided that was not the best fit for her. Her introverted, quiet nature and discomfort with certain textures pushed some required tasks outside her comfort zone and abilities. Being able to recognize those challenges was important in helping Claiborne become successful at work. Instead of pursuing a job in a day care center, volunteering as an assistant in the Sunday school class fulfilled her desire to be around little children.
During summers Claiborne participated in a Goodwill program, working with a job coach, first at a local grocery stocking shelves and then at a Goodwill store. Taking a clue from her love of reading and her success with shelving groceries, Elizabeth arranged for volunteer work at the Green Hills Library. With the natural incentive of free reading time afterward, Claiborne applied her matching and organizational skills to books and DVDs. It was through these experiences and other jobs that Claiborne and her family began to focus on the goal of a part-time job in a grocery. By the time Claiborne completed her last year in the transition program and exited the school system, she was signed up to work with Vocational Rehabilitation Services and The Arc Davidson County to find a job and start working.
A believer in networking, Elizabeth approached her local Kroger, where she was a regular shopper and familiar with the management team. Armed with Claiborne’s resume and the support of a job coach, she was able to reach an agreement with store management for Claiborne to start part time. As her stamina increased and she mastered her assigned tasks, hours and days were gradually increased and new responsibilities were added. Brooke and I loved hearing the reports and celebrating each new step. Lucy’s Facebook post was further cause for celebration.
As the oldest member of our dinner group, I saw Claiborne’s story not only as a cause for celebration for her success, but also as an indication of how much things have changed since 1975 and the beginning of special education. As a teacher, consultant, administrator, advocate, and, later in life, the step-mother of a lovely young woman with autism, Claiborne’s story triggered a flood of memories and also bit of pride and understanding of what has been accomplished.
With an interest in working with older students, I initially taught in a segregated high school for students with IDD. Many of the students I worked with had been living in institutions or in group homes, never having attending public school. Simply getting these students into school was quite a task; school personnel were still learning how and what to teach. Little consideration was given to the bigger picture of life after school, largely because options for most of our “graduates” were limited to sheltered workshops, adult activity centers or staying home all day cared for by a parent. During these early years, the “transition” process consisted of a few of us working with area adult agencies and parents/families to make sure “graduates” got on the waiting list for those segregated services or programs. But, even then, many of us dreamed of helping our students find real jobs.
In Metro Schools, there was a growing recognition that students 18-21 who were not on a path to earn a regular diploma needed something different from another three to four years of high school in order to meet transition goals and be prepared for life as an adult. Like their peers who graduate and then go on to college or vocational school, it made sense for students on an alternative path to take a next step. About the time Claiborne started school, Metro Schools became one of the first school districts to place a “classroom” in an area business, partnering with that business and others to provide opportunities for these young adults to learn and work in a more natural setting. By the time Claiborne started the Community Based Transition Program, the program had grown to include a number of sites around the city, providing experiences in work and community living to so many young adults. Watching the program develop and hearing stories about graduates like Claiborne having success in the world of competitive employment has been one of the most exciting developments in my professional life.
Goals for the Future
One day recently, Elizabeth asked Claiborne what she liked about her job. Her response was an enthusiastic “Everything!” More than a simple anecdote about a day at work, Claiborne’s story is about her transition journey, guided by her parents’ belief that she would one day be employed. Having that goal in mind helped the dream become reality for Claiborne. Inspired by her example, Brooke can see a future for her three young sons that involves work and an inclusive community. She can dream of the day she asks them what they like about their work and they reply “Everything!”