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Grant awarded to local schools for transition initiative

Auburn University, October 2002
Auburn University's College of Education's Department of Rehabilitation & Special Education will soon begin a fulfilling journey where partnerships will be strengthened and the lives of young adults with disabilities will be enriched.

The Transition Leadership Institute, which was established within the Department of Rehabilitation & Special Education (RSE) in the summer of 2000, and two local special education coordinators recently received word that their proposal called "Local Transition Partnerships for Systems Change" had been granted more than $700,000 in federal funds to be used within a four year period from 2003-2007.

The Auburn-Opelika community was awarded one of only three grants given nationwide to serve as a model for the state—and perhaps the nation—to prepare young citizens with disabilities for the roles and responsibilities of young adulthood. The grant will establish partnerships among the Opelika and Auburn communities, their school systems, agencies, municipal organizations and employers. These local partnerships will act as support systems to prepare and assist high school students in finding jobs, continuing education, and preparing for more independence as they exit school and embark upon maturity.

Community leaders and others interested in the future of youth and young people with disabilities joined to celebrate the launching of this four-year project on Nov. 21 at a reception held at The Lodge at Grand National in Opelika.

Dr. Philip Browning, head of RSE and director of the Auburn Transition Leadership Institute, is excited and proud to be a part of such a unique collaborative effort.

"We're celebrating an exciting happening in our communities," he said. "This grant—Local Transition Partnerships—belongs to all of us who elect to be 'partners' in achieving its goals."

The purpose of the grant can best be described in the words of Ottis Stephenson, director of special education for Opelika City Schools.

"Our goal is to enable our students to be self-managing, employable and happy," he said. "To facilitate this outcome we need to form strong bonds with the people in the community who will be working with our kids long after they have left the classroom. Through this grant we hope to secure more effective access to the means by which our students can become self-reliant, self-sufficient, contributing members of society."

State Director of Special Education Dr. Mabrey Whetstone said the project's importance can best be measured by the number of students it will directly impact.

"No fewer than 1,800 Alabama high school students ages 14-21 will be directly affected," he said.

 At the reception, AU's interim provost, Dr. John Pritchett, was on hand to express his pleasure in the University and the Institute's role in providing program development assistance and evaluation services to the project.

 "Auburn University is pleased to be a part of this partnership, and I underline partnership. When I look around, I see representatives from the state level down, and I assure you the sum is greater than the whole," he said. "We're proud to be a part of this and in the years to come not only will the people in this room be affected, but many others will be as well.

 "We're grateful to Phil and his faculty. They are one of the jewels of the Auburn campus," Pritchett said.

 Browning said it was not by chance that the communities were awarded the grant, but by hard work and the foundation that has been laid here. He gave much of the credit to Dr. Karen Rabren, assistant professor of special education and one of the grant advisors, saying she is a "major force in the fact that this even happened."

 Two parents and two students who have already been affected by the existing partnerships gave moving testimonials to the important work these groups do.

 Michelle Fulmer, an 11th-grade student at Opelika High School, expressed a deep appreciation for the Transition Leadership Institute.

 "Transition has helped me have self-confidence, self-esteem and it has taught me to speak up for myself. It has made my dream of working with children and being a Web designer come true," she said. "No matter how busy the teachers are at Transition Leadership, they take the time to talk to you and listen to you. Transition helped me become a responsible adult and person."

Last Updated: May 19, 2011

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