Transformative conference charts course toward 'amazing things'
Over 230 participants from 17 local school districts connected with educational institutions, industry professionals and community agencies helping to solidify individual plans for students as they transition from their school-age years into adulthood.
Transition is a special education term used when students, parents/guardians, community agencies and school districts work together to set realistic goals for the future.
“This process ensures every student with special needs moves on to do amazing things after graduation,” said Jeffrey Pelly, transition consultant for BLaST. “Whether it’s further education at a college or trade school, going straight to the workforce or participating in the community, we know everyone fits after high school. The key is finding out where, and our conference is designed to help answer this question. IU 17 was honored to work with Penn College once again as we continue transform lives and communities through educational services.”
In the morning, the conference provided breakout sessions in three key areas of transition: education and training, employment, and community engagement. Students had the autonomy to choose a pathway with sessions based on their own aspirations. In addition, the conference provided vendor space for 21 community agencies that specialize in supporting individuals with disabilities.
“The conference provided a centralized location for students, parents/guardians and other interested professionals to attend and have access to agencies that offered a variety of services, resources and opportunities,” explained Dawn M. Dickey, director of disability and access resources at Penn College. "Networking with various resources and support is essential for students who are developing and strengthening goals for life after high school. The conference would not have been possible without the collaboration of members of our community and our partnership with BLaST IU 17."
After lunch, attendees were engaged by keynote speaker Mike Wrench, an independent musician specializing in percussion, who is also an educator through his company Upbeat Outreach LLC. Influenced by his family's musical background, his passion for drums started in childhood banging on pots and pans in his parents' kitchen.
Wrench explained he takes his instruction and mentoring efforts as a branch of his personal enthusiasm and dedication for percussion, as well as a means of harnessing and promoting the therapeutic qualities of music. Upbeat Outreach ensures the special-needs population gets the same benefits and rewards of being a drummer as the rest of society.
Regarding transitioning students, Wrench indicated, “Having options is one of the biggest tools that we can possess in our pocket. That’s what made me strive to be successful in my adult life as not just a drummer, but a mentor who supports all types of individuals. My message is to share your passion with others; it could turn into a career and you’ll love every day of your professional life!”
BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 is an educational service agency serving 19 public schools, two career centers and 12 nonpublic schools across Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties. BLaST’s vision is to transform lives and communities through educational services. In order to achieve that vision, BLaST’s everyday mission is to provide, create and facilitate high-quality educational solutions.
– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor
The keynoter enthralls the crowd.
Wrench acknowledges the applause for a young volunteer from Muncy, one of three students who bravely tried their hand at drumming.
Happily answering her students' chant for her to take the stage, Emily Wagner, a South Williamsport Area School District counselor, sets a good example as a volunteer ... and as a mighty fine percussionist!
Brandon De Arment, technology specialist with North Central Sight Services Inc., discusses adaptive technologies at the nonprofit’s mobile assistive technology trailer.
Representatives with the Williamsport-based Living Unlimited, Inc. converse with a mother and son in Wrapture, a college dining unit that was utilized for the vendor tables.
The vendor space includes a Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set, among the items available to educators through BLaST IU 17’s Innovation Lending Library.
Career coach Kelly A. Gartner (at left in black top), who earned a Penn College degree in occupational therapy assistant last year, chats with young guests at a BLaST IU 17 table full of colorful giveaways.
Among the friendly faces directing conference participants to their next venues is Katie L. Mackey, assistant director of disability and access resources.
A panel discussion features (from left) Wrench, Dean R. Fulton, Sara F. Fox and Logan, who addressed the three pathways on which the conference focused: postsecondary education and training, employment, and community engagement. Fulton is a business administration: marketing concentration student and cross-country athlete, and Fox, a disability and access resources assistant, holds two human services degrees from Penn College.
Smiling faces, ready to help guests launch their success
Passionately pounding out a life-affirming rhythm
Visitors from Sayre consider their options in a career exploration session.