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Transition Through Discovery: Chesapeake Public Schools

by Charlene Wentland, VCU-ACE, Technical Assistance Associate

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Chesapeake Public Schools’ Autism School Improvement Team (ASIT) and the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence (VCU-ACE) partnered with the Center on Transition Innovations (CTI) to bring an exciting Transition Project to a pilot group of students and staff during the 2016-2017 school year.

Chesapeake, just as many other school divisions, already has more traditional transition assessments and programs in place.  They also have a Project SEARCH Program, but this program can only serve a few students at a time.  Chesapeake was looking for a program that would improve the employment outcomes for their students.  CTI’s Discovery ME is a person-centered planning process.  This process helps our school teams, parents, and the students
figure out who is this person and how can their skills, strengths, experiences, opportunities, etc. be utilized to create employment options.  This process also assists the teams in creating early opportunities in the school, home, and community environments to practice skills that would be needed for employment.  Research now supports that a student who works during their high school years is more likely to be employed after graduation.

The Discovery process involves three meetings a year (four for high school teams).  Each meeting focuses on gathering and processing information about the student.  Team members have work to do with the information gathered to bring back to the next meeting.  The process involves interviews about the student (interests/strengths) completed with the student, family members, and staff (and people who may know the student).  The team then reviews the 21st century Work Skills to determine strengths and challenges in these areas.  The teams begin to build opportunities in the home, school, and community to support “employment”.  Finally, the teams review career clusters with the student and family members to begin to introduce the idea of careers, what’s available, and what’s required to get there. 

The pilot program in Chesapeake involved two Middle School teams and one High School team: four special education teachers, three transition specialists, three school administrators, one Department on Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) representative, nine students and their families, two special education administrators, one behavior specialist, and one VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associate.  Additional staff visited the meetings to learn about the process.

The results of the Discovery process have been positive for these three teams in Chesapeake.  The school teams have observed a tremendous positive change in families from the first meeting to the last meeting.  Family members have come on board as willing and participating team members.  Many family members recognized goals that they needed to target at home and reported back positive results. Most family members and students reported a positive experience with the process.  All the students in the project participated in some form of “work”, whether that was in the school or in the community as a result of the project.  Staff and families reported learning many things about the student that they did not know prior to the meetings.  Some school administrators expanded parts of this project over into other special education classes in their building so that more students could benefit from the ideas and process.  Opportunities were opened up for students with disabilities that might not have been thought of if not for this project.  For example, in one Middle School a local YMCA volunteered to take a group of students for a week long camp over Spring Break.  The administrator who was on our project decided to send some of her students with disabilities with an additional staff member due to her work with the Discovery Project and the experience was a huge success! 

The next steps for the Discovery Project in Chesapeake involve expanding the project to more schools and following up with the three original schools next year to ensure that expansion occurs within those schools as well.  At the high school the division is planning a “Work-based Learning Community Site Survey” to check-out and review some of the local community businesses as possible work sites for the high school students.  This has been an educational and collaborative process for all involved.


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