SCS Community Transition Team holds second meeting

Helena High School Special Education teacher Mendy Adams welcomes other schools employees, parents, business owners and community leaders to the second Shelby County Schools Community Transition Team meeting, held at the Columbiana Senior Center on March 18. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Helena High School Special Education teacher Mendy Adams welcomes other schools employees, parents, business owners and community leaders to the second Shelby County Schools Community Transition Team meeting, held at the Columbiana Senior Center on March 18. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – School system employees, municipal leaders, parents, business owners and others with a vested interest in helping brainstorm ways to help students with special needs transition into the community convened at the Columbiana Senior Center on March 18.

The Shelby County Schools Community Transition Team’s second meeting allowed those present to discuss ways the team can collectively assist students as they finish school and prepare for the next phase of their lives, whether they are continuing their education in college or entering the workforce.

The team’s formation came after the Alabama State Department of Education required all school systems to participate in a leadership program at Auburn University last year.

Gwendolyn Brown, peer advocate at Disability Rights and Resources, speaks to the group about ways to help students with special needs hone their "soft" skills at home. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Gwendolyn Brown, peer advocate at Disability Rights and Resources, speaks to the group about ways to help students with special needs hone their “soft” skills at home. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

“One of the things we felt was crucial to our students was having partnerships with communities,” Helena High School Special Education teacher Mendy Adams said.

Former Oak Mountain student Daniel Dabbs and his mother, Connie, attended the meeting and weighed in on Daniel’s experience shifting from high school to working in the local restaurant industry.

Dabbs, 28, works at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe.

“We had the privilege to begin working at Taziki’s eight years ago, in 2008,” Dabbs’ mother, Connie Dabbs, said, noting the benefits the Transition Team could have for other students – and businesses who hire them – if more people are aware. “The marketing opportunities are tremendous if we take advantage.”

Adams said a survey revealed lack of transportation is a concern for some families, along with soft skills – how to dress for a job interview, how to find a job, social skills and more.

“Those issues are very real in Shelby County,” Adams said. “There are so many people in the community that are so willing. We just have to tap into that.”

Gwendolyn Brown, peer advocate at Disability Rights and Resources, discussed the importance of helping students with special needs hone their soft skills at home to become self-sufficient adults someday.

Brown is the mother of two children with special needs and advocates for other families facing similar challenges.

Karen Stokes, executive director of The Arc of Shelby County, talked about her organization’s services for people with special needs, including a soft skills training program.

“All of our programs are community-based,” Stokes said.

Don and Ruth Driggers, who own Vincent Gardens in Vincent and Southern Roots and Blooms in Columbiana, are involved in HOPE, or Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment, a program that originated at Vincent Middle/High School in which students with special needs learn how to grow herbs at the nursery and then sell them to Taziki’s owner Keith Richards for dishes in his restaurant.

“It’s been rewarding,” Don Driggers said. “My wife and I have worked with the program for four years.”

Ruth Driggers said the couple enjoys working with the kids at the nursery.

“We appreciate the program,” Ruth said. “It’s a help to us, and we hope we are a help to them and to the kids.”

Beth Ann Wilbur and Veronica McGee, parents of students with special needs at Oak Mountain, said they and other parents at the school hoped the SCS Community Transition Team would spark efforts to ensure all students are included in classroom activities and trips, regardless of their situations.

“We want to see the school systems look at it more progressively,” McGee said. “We’re just here representing a large group of parents at the high school interested in seeing more community and school-based stuff.”

Columbiana Mayor Stancil Handley said he was happy with the turnout of the meeting and glad his city could host it.

“I really like the idea,” Handley said. “In Columbiana, we preach that there’s not any one of us as smart as all of us. I applaud you guys for getting it started. This is the type thing we like.”

Laura Partain with Shelby County Schools said the SCS Community Transition Team tries to meet in different areas of Shelby County for each session.

“That way, we can spotlight different cities,” Partain said. “This is all new. We’re excited with the turnout we’ve had.”