High School Halt: Ways to Support Youth Working on Adult Life Plans During the School Shutdown

School closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been a shock to families everywhere but may feel especially confusing for those who are working toward graduation and life-after-high-school plans. Parents and students may be wondering what will enable students to complete work toward their diplomas, to meet college admission requirements or to continue work toward vocational and/or independent living goals.

This article includes links to resources where information is being regularly updated to help families navigate some of these questions. Also included are ideas for organizing some at-home learning so that young people continue to make progress toward adult life planning.

On March 24, the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NCTACT) provided a webinar to promote home-based learning for transition-age youth with disabilities. This article includes some of the ideas and resources shared, and the NTACT website provides additional materials free for families and school staff: TransitionTA.org/COVID19.

Can my student stay on track to graduate?

The Washington State Board of Education (SBE) provides updated information about graduation impacts of the school shutdown and supports education agencies (school districts, private schools, etc.) to seek emergency waivers so students in the graduating Class of 2020, who were on track to graduate, are not held back. The State Legislature passed a law in response to coronavirus (EHB 2965) that supported the waivers. 

This year’s graduation standards also are impacted by a 2019 law that provides multiple pathways toward a diploma. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) offers a website page describing the Graduation Pathways and provides a handout specifically for the graduating Class of 2020 because of unique options while the 2019 law is still being implemented.

For a student eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team determines what criteria are met for the student to earn a diploma and the timeline for graduation. Families are encouraged to reach out to IEP case managers and school staff when possible to collaborate on how the IEP will be adjusted in light of the school closures.

OSPI provides a list of Resources for Continuous Learning During School Closures. Included is a list specifically for Supporting Students with Disabilities. On that list are various career cruising and secondary-transition planning tools that the school and family might use to support a student during this time of distance learning. More ideas are included below.

What about college admission requirements?

Students who are college-bound may have questions about admissions requirements and whether they can still be met. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has encouraged colleges to be flexible and has created a central resource of campus changes to the college admission process due to the coronavirus outbreak. The tool includes information on campus closures, deposit and decision deadlines, and other admission-related changes from more than 800 colleges and universities.

How can I help my student organize the day to include learning?

NCTACT offers home-based packets and toolkits to help schools and families work together to ensure that learning continues for transition-age youth. Included is a sample weekly scheduling tool. In its March 24 webinar, the agency encouraged creative ways to support regular work in each of the key areas of learning for a student with an IEP:

  • Life skills
  • Self-determination
  • Self-advocacy
  • Desire to work
  • Enriching experiences
  • Appropriate goals

Teachable moments might include real-life situations related to the pandemic and a new routine. Students still can have the opportunity to make choices and to live with the consequences of choices and actions. For example, a student-made meal might not be gourmet but can be enjoyed on its merits of life-skill-building and risk-taking.

How can the IEP support work at home?

NCTACT recommends development of a consistent routine and documentation of daily work and any progress or regression. To help with planning, anyone supporting the student can take a close look at the current IEP.

The Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance, which are built from evaluation results, can provide inside about the student’s strengths, interests and capacities. Annual goals will highlight the areas of specially designed instruction being provided through the IEP. Consider how instruction might be adapted for at-home instruction in order for progress to continue toward the goal—or whether a more suitable goal might be considered. If school staff are available for consultation, parents can collaborate to set up a shared approach.

For a student older than 16, a post-secondary transition plan is included in the IEP and includes projections about adult goals and the skills being worked on to get there. NCTACT provides Choice Boards to support ongoing work in three key areas that are aspects of a transition plan:

  • Career exploration
  • Education and training
  • Independent living

The Choice Boards are pre-loaded with resource linkages and suggestions.

PAVE provides a webinar and a comprehensive article about life-after-high-school planning with further guidance about the transition process in general. More time at home together might give families a good opportunity to sit back and consider key questions to help the student make future plans:

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, capacities—the Present Levels of Performance in the IEP)
  2. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations—Transition Plan Goals in the IEP)
  3. How do I get there? (transition services, courses, activities, supports, service linkages, community connections, help to overcome barriers—Annual Goals, Accommodations and other provisions included in the IEP)

What can we do at home today?

Consider how transition programming can be adapted to current circumstances so that the student continues to be inspired and to make progress toward life goals in each day’s work and play.

NCTACT encourages adults and students to recognize what is appropriate and reasonable and to remain creative and flexible. Below are some typical home-based subject areas that might support learning and skill-building, with a few linkages to resources that might help.

  • Leisure and Recreation
  • Home Maintenance
    • Organizing
    • Cooking
    • Cleaning
    • Yard Work
  • Personal Care
    • Exercise—Planet Fitness offers “Home Work-Ins”
    • Personal Care—org offers ideas to assist young adults in taking charge of their healthcare
  • Finances
    • Budgeting—Cents and Sensibility from the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation provides an approach for individuals with autism.
    • Practice with money by paying for things throughout the day
  • Communication
    • Letter and email writing
    • Webinars
    • Phone calls/interview a friend or relative about their career path and write about it?

Additional resources to inspire planning

In addition to NCTACT’s suggestions and the OSPI resources listed above, here are a few other places that provide vocational questionnaires and forecasting tools:

  • AgExplorer.com helps students imagine themselves in fields related to farming and beyond
  • ExploreWork.com helps students with disabilities consider their strengths and interests and how to relate them to work options
  • RAISECenter.org offers a variety of tools related to vocational rehabilitation. (RAISE stands for Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment.)
  • CareerOneStop.org, sponsored by the US Department of Labor, provides career assessments through its website and a mobile app.
  • An agency called Nepris is providing online chats to help prepare students for the future of work.

To brainstorm options related to higher education, here are some options for further information:

For additional ideas about supporting a student with in-home learning please refer to PAVE’s Links for Learning at Home During School Closure.

Please note that any resource list provided by PAVE is not exhaustive, and PAVE does not endorse or support these agencies. Links are provided for information only.