The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics reports that special education students are more than twice as likely as their peers in general education to drop out of high school. Youth with disabilities are also half as likely as their peers without disabilities to participate in postsecondary education. Little or no expectation of success, low educational attainment, few vocational goals, and confusing government programs with conflicting eligibility criteria have resulted in many students with disabilities not making a successful transition from high school to postsecondary education, employment, and independent living (NCWD/YOUTH, 2014).

Arbor School has set out to beat these statistics for our students. Our school was founded in 2002 and serves students from ages 5-22 years old with varying disabilities. It is the mission of the school to provide the education our students need to be successful community members after graduation. Arbor provides an individualized program with academics that are leveled for each student, online classes, programming, digital drawing, art and music. Teachers spend time brainstorming ideas and sharing information through a K-12 teaching and learning platform. This digital collaboration has led to several great ideas, such as how to integrate Project Based Learning, and the creation of Friday afternoon clubs. Thanks to technology, our staff members are able to easily communicate with one another, parents and students.

All of our students are assessed yearly to assure that the coursework they are doing is within their learning abilities and that each individual is making progress in three core subject areas: math, reading and language arts. Teachers use these assessments when planning lessons to ensure standards are being met and that success is achievable for each student. 

At Arbor we provide accommodations to help our students succeed. For example, students who struggle with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, may be given access to text-to-speech tools when they are reading. Students with dyscalculia are given calculators, and students with dysgraphia are able to use keyboards for their assignments. 

We’ve also seen the benefit of offering online classes. Students have access to elective courses that allow them to fulfill language requirements, take introductory career classes and make up missed credits, if needed. These classes are self-paced and adaptable to the learning styles and needs of each learner. 

In 2016, Arbor created one of the first transition to work, college and independent living programs in Central Florida. All high school students are required to take independent living classes before they turn 17. These classes are essential in preparing them for the future, and cover managing money, cooking, self-care and self-advocacy. Students in these classes spend time in the classroom learning each skill and then practice them outside of school.

At 17, each student enters our transition to work program. This program includes a half day of classes in English, Math, Science and History, and a half day in the workplace, with job coaches at one or more of our community partners. Arbor School is grateful to partner with companies including Gordon Foods, Thales Manufacturing, Bio Plus Pharmaceutical and The Tremont Retirement Community. 

By participating in this program, students learn the expectations of being on the job, such as being on time, following the dress code and being organized. They are also required to “call in sick or late” when they are going to be out. 

Our Transitions students also learn the soft skills of employment, including customer service, using appropriate language, how to communicate with colleagues and how to take constructive evaluations. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to be team leaders for the day, allowing them to learn what it means to coach rather than boss their fellow team leaders.

In order to be eligible for and remain in the program, students are expected to maintain their grades and communicate directly with their teachers regarding grades and attendance.

For our students who are college bound, Transitions classes are still a requirement for at least one year. Students who will be attending a postsecondary institution are grouped together in classes with lessons that are high in expectations and rigor so they have the academic skills needed to be successful. As part of their transition classes, they also prepare for SAT and ACT testing, tour colleges, and explore careers. Our college bound students are also prepared for the social expectations of college life through social skills training classes and field trips to places and events that are geared for young adults (coffee shops to do schoolwork, arranging weekend trips to a local event, etc.). We’ve found that with plenty of practice, our students are able to adjust to college life with little to no support.

Our students who are heading to college graduate when they have completed required courses and show the emotional readiness to begin college. Students who are moving toward a different journey, such as tech school, competitive employment or supported employment have the opportunity to stay with Arbor School until their 22nd birthday. This gives them time to continue to learn and progress toward independent living and getting a job. 

Graduation happens differently for each of our students. But, with the ability to digitally collaborate and track student records, we know exactly how to help every individual get to where they need to be.

The Arbor School of Central Florida offers a sensory-based curriculum ideal for children with high functioning Autism, Dyslexia, Down Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, SLD and other Learning Disabilities. Visit arborschoolflorida.com or call (407) 388-1808 to learn more.

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