FSU special education program partners with Leon County Schools on workforce development initiatives

Through a partnership between FSU's College of Education and Leon County Schools, students in the special education program and autism spectrum disorder master's and certificate programs worked with attendees of the Adult Community Education (ACE) Summer Institute. (FSU College of Education/Jennie Kroeger)
Through a partnership between FSU’s College of Education and Leon County Schools, students in the special education program and autism spectrum disorder master’s and certificate programs worked with attendees of the Adult Community Education (ACE) Summer Institute. (FSU College of Education/Jennie Kroeger)

Florida State University’s special education program within the College of Education has formed a partnership with Leon County Schools to address the challenges students with intellectual disabilities face after finishing school and help these individuals find meaningful employment.

Through the partnership, FSU students in the special education program and autism spectrum disorder master’s and certificate programs worked with attendees of the Adult Community Education (ACE) Summer Institute. They conducted assessments and teaching lessons both in-person and virtually, getting real-world experience before running a classroom or business of their own.

“This program and partnership are a sustainable way to support workforce development of both people with disabilities and without,” said Jenny Root, assistant professor of special education at FSU. “Not only are we developing the workforce of attendees with disabilities, but through the university partnership, we are also developing the workforce of those who are in the pipeline to be the next generation of teachers, counselors and therapists supporting successful transitions.”

The ACE Summer Institute, which was founded five years ago by Florida Rep. Allison Tant, helps young people with disabilities aged 14-35 gain invaluable vocational experience, which can lead to gainful employment. Funded by the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, this year’s summer institute ran for two weeks in June and two weeks in July with 55 young adults in attendance.

On July 13, Tant invited various agencies related to transition for young adults with disabilities to visit the summer institute to give the people who make policy and practice decisions about transition services a first-hand look at what is possible when high-quality transition services are in place. These agencies included the Florida Department of Education, Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida Center for Independent Living, The Arc of Florida, Tallahassee Community College, Lively Technical College, Florida Center for Persons with Unique Abilities and FSU.

They discussed the lack of transition services in the Big Bend region and Florida as a whole, which forced several parents to drive more than an hour each way for their children to attend the summer institute.

To address this issue, Root is leading a program evaluation for the institute with the goal of it becoming a model program in the state. She will team up on the project with Stacey Hardin, teaching faculty in special education, and special education doctoral students Erika Fundelius and Deidre Gilley, who also serves as director of the summer institute.

“The institute is an amazing thing, yet this shouldn’t be extraordinary. It should be incredibly ordinary,” said Root.

To learn more about this partnership, visit education.fsu.edu/blog/ace-summer-institute.

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