Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago will use a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train educators to help youth with disabilities transition from high school to adult life.

The researchers will partner with the Chicago Public Schools, working with youths with a range of disabilities. The grant also will enable the researchers to form a network of educators and agencies that focus on youths with disabilities.

“While in high school, people with disabilities are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. After high school, they are forced to advocate for themselves,” says Michelle Parker-Katz, UIC clinical professor of special education and co-principal investigator on the study. “They have to navigate a myriad of government and outside agencies.”

The grant will fund the training of 56 certified transition specialists with the advance certification of Learning and Behavior Specialist II to serve in high-need schools. Tuition, fees, and some costs for books and equipment will be waived. Students in the program’s second year will be paid to mentor first-year students.

The researchers said youth with disabilities who drop out are more likely to be incarcerated or underemployed, or to become parents at an early age. Youth with disabilities also are less than half as likely as others to gain any higher education or vocational training.

“Illinois now has only 17 special educators with advanced certification, while 107,629 transition-age students with disabilities are enrolled in public schools,” said Lisa Cushing, associate professor of special education and co-principal investigator. “Only two other universities offer state certification in transition, and they are located several hours from Chicago.”

“Nationally, only 72 percent of youth with disabilities complete high school,” said Parker-Katz. “Even fewer graduate on time, especially among those with emotional disturbances,” said.

Cushing and Parker-Katz will develop training courses and a network to be available in summer 2012.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

Sources : Transition for Youth with Disabilities

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