Capistrano Unified helps special ed children transition to new campus lives

By CUSD Insider staff

School life is full of many challenges and changes, from adjusting to new teachers, to new classmates, to distance learning and, as of late, to educational life during a pandemic.

Significant among all that are the life-altering grade level transitions when campus life takes on a very different feel. It’s those adjustments of shifting from pre-K to elementary, elementary to middle, middle to high school, and high school to adult life.

While those transitions are hard for general education students, Capistrano Unified leaders say they’re even tougher for children in the special education program and their families. Fortunately, the district supports those families with care and attention to ease through those crucial transition years.

Rachel Sutherland chairs the district’s Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which is made up of parents, educators and community members with the goal of supporting students with special needs. That effort includes improving communication, procedures and programs for both the students themselves and their families.

For example, during elementary school, students generally learn from a single teacher in a single room. Upon entering middle school, the scene changes to moving around to different classrooms with different teachers for different subjects — a major adjustment for students.

“There wasn’t a space where parents could talk to other parents and learn more about the new move,” Sutherland said. “It’s a big jump, just like it is for general ed students.”

Capistrano Unified now provides that essential forum where special ed parents can speak with a school administrator and other parents who have overseen their child’s transitions. Everyone learns what to expect. They get details on how the grading system is different from elementary to middle, and how classes can be based on what the child physically and cognitively can handle, Sutherland said.

“There is so much to discuss in the child’s transition plan,” she added.

This year, those transition forums won’t be happening in person like they normally do. They will be available via Zoom, with separate sessions for each level: pre-kindergarten to elementary (kindergarten through fifth grade), elementary into middle school (grades six through eight), middle to high school (grades nine to 12), and high school into adult transition, which covers special ed students until age 22.

Someone from the district will be present at the Zoom meetings, as well as parents supporting other parents.

“Attendees can get input from both those perspectives,” Sutherland said. “That’s really important.”

For those who can’t make the live Zoom sessions, they will be recorded and posted online. Capo Unified also plans to have them translated in Spanish and Farsi.

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