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Life After High School for Special Needs Students

Susan Notes:
We celebrate this young man's success, while wishing other students with special needs had the opportunity.

Ohanian Comment: What makes this story "good news" and not tragedy is the fact that this young man received a high school diploma. Without a Massachusetts diploma because she failed to pass the state exam, Tracey Newhart, an award-winning cook who has Down syndrome, was turned down by a culinary institute that had already accepted her.

Thomas Moore hasn't let fetal alcohol syndrome stop him from attending classes at the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay.

As Thursday evening's class at Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay gets underway, 19-year-old student Thomas Moore concentrates intently on his task.

He carefully quarters small red potatoes, shiny with oil and sprinkled with rosemary.

He slices bacon on a clean white cutting board.

He walks swiftly back and forth between the preparation area and the guts of the kitchen, where an industrial-sized oven sits behind a separating wall.

Dressed in starched whites, including a traditional chef's hat, Moore is just another competent, determined student in the 15-month culinary program.

Moore's facial features are the only external clue to the internal challenges he has confronted to get where he is tonight.

Even so, it's likely only someone looking for signs of fetal alcohol syndrome would notice how Moore's small brown eyes don't move as a unit or how his nasal bridge is sunken.


According to the Center for Disease Control, the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome vary in type and severity. They include poor coordination, learning disabilities, hyperactive behavior, poor reasoning and judgment skills and problems with daily living.

In his time at Brookings-Harbor High School as a student on an individual education plan (IEP), Moore became familiar with the wide range of disabilities that affected his classmates.

"It's just amazing," he said. "Some people are so severe they can't do anything. I'm hardly affected."

Moore said math is his biggest academic challenge, and though he became frustrated enough in ninth and tenth grades to consider dropping out, he instead graduated in June 2003 with a 3.2 grade point average.

"There were some pretty severe obstacles I had to overcome," Moore said. "But I always had that determination."

He made the transition to Southwestern Oregon Community College's culinary school shortly after graduation, moving into the on-campus dorms in Coos Bay in September.

Moore said he always wanted to be a chef, so the transition from high school to culinary school was natural.

But other students on IEPs may need more guidance to successfully transition from high school.

School officials are supposed to provide this guidance, and a free workshop explaining the schools' responsibility will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. today (Jan. 14) at the Hanscam Center in Harbor.

The conference is sponsored by Families Integrating Special Health Services (FISHS), a coalition of parents and professionals who coordinate services for people with disabilities through the county health department, parent volunteer Elaine Lortscher said.

Ideally, school officials begin talking with students about their post-high school goals when they are 15, Glenna DeSouza, Brookings-Harbor School District special education director, said.

By the time a student is 16, school officials should have identified necessary steps to achieving those goals, whether that is attending college, getting vocational training or finding a job, she said.

Transition Specialist Mike Forbis is helping more and more Brookings-Harbor High students realize their goals with his company, Access Unlimited.

"I'm real excited we now have the services of Access Unlimited," DeSouza said. "We are headed in the right direction."

Access Unlimited is nonprofit and state certified to provide services for individuals with developmental disabilities, Forbis said.

"The goal for transition is to help individuals ... figure out what it is they'd like to do when they're done with school," Forbis said.

"We start meeting with kids early on, so by the time they are seniors, their goals are fairly well defined."

Lortscher said key players in local transition programs will attend today's workshop.

"If you have a child that's close to age 14 or older and they have an IEP and you're wondering ... what they are going to do in the future, then you should be at this meeting," Lortscher said.

The workshop if free, but those who want to attend must register.

— Andrea Barkan
Life After High School for Special Needs Students
Curry Pilot


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