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A Vision for the Future for Children with Special Needs
By Tricia Norris, Development Manager, Pace School

“For many of our students, “fitting in” and accessing the world around them is challenging. Exclusion from meaningful experiences because of their daily struggles and challenges makes thinking about tomorrow and the long-term future difficult. They have difficulty imagining what a bright future might look like”, Karen Shepherd, CEO of Pace school.

At Pace School, we strive to help children envision their future. Since 1967, we have served students in grade K-8 with complex emotional behavior needs and Autism. The board of directors decided in 2015 to increase services by including students in high school and up to age 21. “Students services, relationships, and progress were being disrupted when they changed school settings.” says Karen Shepherd, “By expanding services, we hoped to prevent them falling through the cracks that moving schools or entering adult services can often cause.”

Before embarking on this new journey, Pace researched post-secondary outcomes for special education students like ours, and the results were alarming. Students with disabilities represent 18-20% of all high school dropouts. They also have a post-secondary unemployment rate of 66%, and almost 30% of working age adults with disabilities are living in poverty. These students are fighting against not only the statistics around their existing disabilities, but also the social and economic barriers that set them up for future failures and poor outcomes including poverty, violent neighborhoods, race and gender. “It became apparent that unless we reimagine the way students with significant disabilities and social barriers access education and mental health systems, they will continue to experience poor post-secondary outcomes”, says Ms. Shepherd.
In 2016, Pace began to develop a program focused on community based learning, hands-on learning and 21st century skills. It became essential that students participate in community-based activities allowing them to transfer into the real world the social, emotional, functional and academic skills they learn in the school building.

Students will graduate from Pace for the first time in its 52 year history in May of 2019. This amazing journey has been a culmination of efforts from leadership, administration, staff, families, and students. Students like Cameron Perkins.

Cameron has been at Pace since 1st grade. His mom made the difficult decision of placing him at Pace despite the 88 mile a day drive she would have to make to get him there. The addition of a high school program allowed Cam to stay with his trusted staff. Pace is proud that Cam just completed an internship through a partnership with Alcosan. One day a week Cam went to Alcosan and worked with his mentor, Bill Petrosky, on interceptor maintenance, job readiness skills, and self-confidence. This type of experience provided the opportunity for him to practice the skills he learned at Pace in a real world setting. Cam’s mom is thrilled with his progress and shares, “When I think of Cameron’s future, I am positive that he will be a successful member of society. I couldn’t have imagined that when I brought my 6 year old son to Pace 11 years ago.”

Pace is looking forward to continued growth of this exciting program and its expansion to serve even more young adults. At Pace, we believe kids CAN, and it has been so exciting to watch as these young adults realize their potential, their future, and that they indeed … CAN!

For more information about Pace School, visit www.paceschool.org.

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