At a Glance
In collaboration with its nine sending and sponsoring school districts, A.W. Beattie Career Center hosts an annual “Transition Fair” geared towards students with disabilities who may need support transitioning from high school to postsecondary education, employment or independent living.
For students with disabilities and their families, the transition from high school to postsecondary opportunities can be a daunting and confusing experience. To address these concerns, A.W. Beattie Career Center (AWBCC) and its sending districts looked for ways to provide these students and their families direct access to available resources and networking opportunities so that their transitions could be as smooth as possible. The partners decided to host a collaborative transition fair that would concentrate the efforts of the nine sending districts and utilize their resources to offer students and their families a comprehensive networking opportunity in a location accessible to families throughout the northern area school districts.
Prior to developing the collaborative transition fair, a couple of AWBCC’s sending districts were hosting individual transition fairs. Susan Grant, supervisor at the time at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, proposed the idea of instead organizing a larger collaborative fair so that representatives from area schools and agencies were pulled to fewer locations on fewer individual dates. She asked Ms. Erin Rushe, Special Populations Coordinator at AWBCC, to take the lead on developing this fair with the thought that AWBCC would host the event.
To plan for the transition fair, Ms. Rushe first scheduled an initial meeting with at least one key representative (usually the transition coordinator) from each of AWBCC’s nine sending school districts to serve on the planning committee. They discussed and agreed upon the logistics of the fair – what it should look like, who to invite, how to market and generate excitement for the event and how to encourage students and their families to attend. The first Northern Area Transition Fair (NATF) took place in 2011. Ms. Rushe credits the collaboration among committee members and the community efforts – such as contacting representatives, reaching out to community newspapers to publicize the event, and generating information to the families – with making the first event a success. Since 2011, the NATF has been an annual event (except for during the Covid 19 pandemic), and Ms. Rushe continues to serve as the coordinator and organizer.
Each year, the NATF committee follows a similar planning process to prepare for the event, which takes place in the evening on a date between early March and late April. The committee meets within the first month or two of the school year and then as needed leading up to the date of the fair. At the beginning of the planning process, representatives receive a “Hold the Date” notice for the fair. Around two months before the NATF, the district representative asks the representatives from postsecondary, employment, independent living and other community agencies to confirm their attendance. About a month before the fair, the committee begins pushing out information to students and families via news blasts, automated phone calls, and letters in the mail with tickets for the raffle. Each district contributes $200 each year to cover the cost of food, publicity, items for the raffle baskets, and other minor miscellaneous costs. Once the fair has concluded, Ms. Rushe conducts a debrief meeting with the sending districts so that they can discuss possible changes for the next year and set a date for the following year.
The planning committee receives positive feedback about the fair each year, and Ms. Rushe expects the NATF will continue to be an annual event. For other Career Technical Centers considering hosting a collaborative transition fair with their sending districts, Ms. Rushe provides some insight into how to plan for a successful fair, what challenges may arise, and how to address them. First and foremost, she suggests that the transition fair needs to be a collaborative effort if it is to run smoothly and be effective. The committee needs to designate a fair coordinator to manage the logistics, and there also needs to be a designated person from each sending district to act as a liaison, assume responsibility for disseminating information to the sending district and secure agency representatives.
It can be a challenge for the NATF committee to secure a variety of representatives from postsecondary, employment and independent living agencies. In addition, representatives sometimes cancel on the day of the fair due to unforeseen circumstances. These two challenges are mitigated to some degree simply because representatives who have participated in the fair in the past view the event as a well-organized event that presents them with a valuable opportunity to connect with students. (The committee also shows its appreciation to participants by providing them food and running a separate raffle just for them.)
As the NATF coordinator, Ms. Rushe also faces the challenge of getting fair information out to students and families across the nine sending districts. She distributes a letter to AWBCC students who have a disability, and encourages the sending districts to do the same. She has found that she needs to rely on each individual district to decide what it is able to do internally to promote the fair each year.
At the conclusion of the fair, the committee administers a survey to both the agency representatives who participated as well as to the students and families who attended. The survey feedback is primarily positive. The committee also reviews the sign-in sheets to get an idea of how many students and families from each district attended so it can discuss how to reach more students in the upcoming year.
The participating sending districts find the fair to be a valuable opportunity for students with disabilities who are preparing to transition into postsecondary opportunities. Many of the sending districts include the fair as part of their students’ transition plans, documenting it in the transition section as one of the activities for the school year.