Transition Tennessee and Voc Rehab Focus Partnership on Quality Improvement
By Jessica Awsumb
As most of you know, Tennessee’s Vocational Rehabilitation program helps people with disabilities find employment. One important component within Vocational Rehabilitation is Pre-Employment Transition Services. Three years ago, Vocational Rehabilitation developed a partnership with Transition Tennessee, an online home for professional development, resources, and training for preparing students with disabilities for life after high school. The aim of the partnership was to train providers in the various Pre-Employment Transition Services. Transition Tennessee and Vocational Rehabilitation recently signed a new contract, with a new emphasis on quality delivery of these services to students with disabilities across Tennessee.
For those of you not familiar with Pre-Employment Transition Services, these services are delivered to students with disabilities ages 14-21 who have 504 Plans or Individualized Education Plans to prepare them for continuing their education after high school or going directly to work. There are five services under Pre-ETS:
- Job exploration counseling: Activities that help students learn about their career interests, looking at not only what they can do, but what they want to do.
- Counseling on postsecondary education: Activities that help students learn about their options for continuing their education after high school.
- Instruction in self-advocacy: Activities to help students understand their rights and responsibilities as adults, to take control of their lives, and to learn to make their own decisions.
- Workplace readiness training: Opportunities for students to learn about and apply skills important for work such as social skills, independent living skills, and job-seeking skills.
- Work-based learning: Hands-on opportunities for students to try the skills they have learned through volunteering, internships, paid employment, and other experiences such as job shadowing or worksite tours.
These services are delivered by Pre-ETS providers to students in the classroom and in the community. Vocational Rehabilitation awards contracts to two types of providers to deliver these services:
- Transition school to work programs: These contracts are awarded to the school directly, which allows them to hire TSW providers that deliver the five services.
- Community rehabilitation providers: CRPs are outside agencies that receive funding from Vocational Rehabilitation to go into the schools and provide Pre-ETS to students with disabilities in collaboration with educators.
The type of provider and provider agency differs in each school, so families should ask their student’s special education teacher who their Pre-ETS provider is. If you have difficulty getting this information, you are welcome to email Transition Tennessee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To assist Pre-ETS providers in serving students with disabilities, Vocational Rehabilitation and Transition Tennessee partnered to provide the needed training and resources. Information for educators, Pre-ETS providers, and students with disabilities can be found on Transition Tennessee’s website, www.transitiontn.org. The site offers the best of what we know works for promoting successful transitions for students with disabilities. It describes the steps educators and providers can take in partnership with families and communities to help students identify, work toward, and achieve their post-school goals. It offers a result-oriented framework to equip educators, outside agencies, and other stakeholders with the knowledge, resources, and evidence-based practices that promote collaboration and produce students ready for postsecondary success. During the first three years of our Pre-ETS partnership, Transition Tennessee focused on the creation of the online professional development courses for providers of Pre-ETS (www.transitiontn.org/VR) and interactive lessons to be used with students with disabilities (www.transitiontn.org/student). Our initial partnership goal was to prepare and train providers to deliver these pre-employment services to students with disabilities in the classroom and in the community.
The new contract between Transition Tennessee and Vocational Rehabilitation started on May 1, 2021, with an increased focus on quality improvement of these services. We at Transition Tennessee are beginning by working with Vocational Rehabilitation to examine the information the agency collects about the services that students receive. At the same time, we will develop a survey that asks about Pre-ETS and the quality of services the students are receiving. We plan to ask these questions of Pre-ETS providers, special educators, students, and their families. The goal is that by reviewing the information collected by Vocational Rehabilitation and the results of the survey, we will be able to create a tool that can be used to continually measure the quality of Pre-ETS that students are receiving.
In addition to looking at available data, we will develop a guide for providers to better structure the delivery of these pre-employment services. This will be a tool that providers can use to understand the different activities that fall within each service. Within each of the five services, providers will be able to deliver different activities for students’ different skill levels. For example, one student may just be learning about the potential to continue schooling beyond high school, so that student may need to start by learning about the various postsecondary programs that are available. Another student may have chosen what college/certificate program they are going to attend but need to learn how their rights to supports and services change when they arrive at the postsecondary school or program. This guide will help providers structure their lessons to meet the needs and skill levels of their students.
The last piece of the contract will include two model demonstration sites. We will choose two schools in Tennessee that serve students with disabilities especially well. We will be looking for schools that deliver high-quality services, are creative, inclusive, and serve students through their partnerships with Pre-ETS providers, the school, the families, and the community. We want to hear these schools’ stories of how they are helping students engage in activities to prepare them for employment, education, and independent living after high school. These schools will be used as a model to demonstrate for others how to improve their Pre-ETS delivery and partnerships across Tennessee.
Although we are changing our main focus in this new contract, we do still plan to provide educational courses and trainings. We plan to create courses for providers covering workplace readiness training and counseling on postsecondary education. Trainings will cover topics such as how to individualize services, being person-centered, and delivering high-quality services. For students, we plan to create more lessons for students who want to go straight to work, continue their education, and learn about independent living. Overall, this new contract will seek to make sure that all students with disabilities are prepared to leave high school and find success on their chosen pathway.
I appreciate Jessica taking the time to explain Transition Tennessee’s work with our Vocational Rehabilitation agency and the work they will be doing going forward. One of the things I often like to ask people in this field is why they chose to work with people with disabilities. Many, like me, have a loved one with a disability, and that leads us to try to improve systems and services. When I asked Jessica, this was her response: “My undergrad degree was in psychology, and I just wasn’t sold that the best way to understand disability was ‘medically.’ And I struggled to understand why people could virtually have their life ‘peak’ by the time they are leaving high school just because they had a disability. Then I found this program at University of Illinois at Chicago and went and did their master’s degree in Disability and Human Development and discovered that lots of people felt that way, too, and found a great advisor doing transition work and working collaboratively and including people with disabilities. And it just made sense to me to be able to approach it from a different perspective (which I might argue is the correct one). And that you can’t just tear down the systems, but you can work within them and make incremental change (hopefully).”
As always, if you have questions you’d like addressed, please email me at email@example.com. Thank you for reading!
Jessica Awsumb is a research associate with Transition Tennessee and is the principal investigator for the Pre-ETS initiative with the goal to improve quality employment outcomes for youth with disabilities in Tennessee. She came from Chicago, IL, where she received her doctorate in disability studies. Jessica previously worked with Chicago Public Schools and Illinois’ Vocational Rehabilitation to become meaningful partners in serving youth with disabilities.