Students Chart Their Own Course

May 17, 2018

If you want to know which supports will most help students with disabilities achieve their goals, ask them! That’s the novel idea behind the Student Directed Planning Project of the RSE-TASC, Lower Hudson Regional Technical Assistance Support Center.

Educators, students and family members turned out Thursday for the Fourth Annual Celebration of Student Directed IEPs or Individual Education Plans at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES. Several students from school districts in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties spoke about themselves or presented power points on their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, goals and accomplishments.
An 18-year-old student from Yonkers spoke about his developing computer and writing skills and his goal to work in an office someday. Another 18-year-old Yonkers student, who identified himself as being on the autism spectrum, said he would like to learn how to do his own laundry, take a bus to work, live in a college dorm and open a bank account.

A New Rochelle student who is graduating in June, shared that she is motivated by rewards and sometimes needs a break when doing challenging tasks. She hopes to get a job in a pet store and would like to eventually become a veterinary assistant.

A 10th grade student from Pearl River said others would describe her as hard working, outgoing, compassionate and sometimes stubborn. The student, who has a hearing impairment and finds math challenging, shared that she was able to earn an A in geometry this year, and will receive an award for excellence in global history thanks to hard work and the accommodations she receives from her IEP.

Although simple on its face, the idea of involving students in developing their own IEPs is ground breaking. Research has shown that students with greater self-determination in high school have better outcomes as adults including earning more per hour than those who were less involved.

Fifty school districts in the lower Hudson region are participating in the project, which is sponsored by RSE-TASC and the Hudson Valley Special Education Parent Center at the Westchester Institute for Human Development. Districts are teaching students about their education plans and instituting practices to involve students in Committee on Special Education meetings.   

“After years of talking about advocacy with students this (project) has truly given them a voice,” wrote one participant in comments on the program. A parent said, “It gave my daughter confidence and strength to become who she really is and do what she can do even though as a parent I doubted it and was actually holding her back…”

Educators taught the students how to articulate information about themselves in the annual review meetings using power points, oral presentations or videos. In the process, the students learned about themselves, their educational plans and self-advocacy.
PHOTO CAPTION: Stephanie Wozniak of the RSE-TASC, Lower Hudson Regional Technical Assistance Support Center, discusses the value of student-directed IEPs, or individual education plans.