A Student-Driven Transition Model

Sheilah Gauch, M.Ed, LICSW, Principal and Clinical Director

Quality secondary transition planning, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, is a Student-Driven Model that includes student agency/voice, combined with a whole school approach and postsecondary planning. This approach requires intense collaboration, teamwork and a focus on working with the student to set high and attainable goals for their future. At Dearborn Academy, we work daily with our students and their families to ensure transitional planning follows this DESE guidance. Our students have the added challenge of significant social/emotional and learning disabilities that impact their ability to access the curriculum. Therefore, we are particularly mindful of how we design our transitional support.


Massachusetts Student-Driven Secondary Transition Model

Mass. Student-Driven Secondary Transition Model graphic


Whole School

At Dearborn, we know that nearly everything that happens during the school day is an opportunity to build transitional skills. We use Restorative Practices, which teach relationship skill building and conflict-resolution skills. Further, the team is trained to work with students who have anxiety to help them access coping skills to successfully persevere in their academic work. College and Career class is offered weekly beginning in 9th grade.


By 11th grade, students begin to meet with their guidance counselor twice a month, increasing to once per week by 12th grade. Guidance counselors share what each student is learning with the wider school team so that they can collaborate on skill building. For example, if a student is working on a resume and they receive support from a Speech language pathologist (SLP), they can use some of their 1:1 time with the SLP to review the resume and role play critical interview skills. If a student is preparing their college essay, the English teacher can support them in class. Transitional planning is embedded into every aspect of the day. 


Student Agency

Every aspect of Derborn Academy’s transitional support is dedicated to promoting and supporting student voice and increasing student agency. Our whole school approach to transitional skill building translates easily into increasing student voice and agency.


Teachers support students to understand their own needs in the classroom and to set attainable goals to access their academics. Our students meet with a licensed mental health clinician one time a week. There, they may work on skills such as self-advocacy and coping skill development. Many of our students also have a speech and language pathologist and/or reading specialist on their team. These specialists actively engage students in developing their voice through lessons that include these critical skills. Finally, our guidance counselors round out this teaching in college and career classrooms and 1:1 meeting time. Educators, clinicians, specialists and guidance counselors team together to ensure student voice is part of all goal development and skill building. 


Opportunities abound throughout the school day for students to use their voice and increase their agency throughout Dearborn. Student council is one such opportunity for students to impact their school community. Electives such as woodshop, jewelry, art, music, volunteer clubs, GSA and National Honors Society are additional places for students to explore new interests and postsecondary plans. Students recently designed and administered a school climate survey targeted at increasing student voice regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at the school.


Post-Secondary Planning

Students graduating from Dearborn Academy with some of their teachers in summer 2023Postsecondary planning begins from the moment a student enters Dearborn Academy, regardless of their grade. This year, our staff partnered with Local Civics and designed a college and career readiness online platform that aligns with the Massachusetts Department of Education’s My Career and Academic Plan (MyCAP).


This online platform is specifically adaptable to students with varying learning and social-emotional profiles. It was developed with the belief that students deserve to set and achieve high goals.


The platform allows for direct instruction of transition skills and gives students agency over their transitional goals. Students can earn badges (designed specifically for Dearborn Academy students) as they progress through different college and career skills. Some of the lessons designed for our Stage 1 badge are: 


  • My Four-Year Plan
  • My Goals
  • My Career Search
  • Resume Writing
  • Resume Submission
  • Field Trip Reflection
  • Guest Speaker Reflection


This online platform allows students to access this learning in different settings, as well: they can work with a teacher, clinician, specialist or a caregiver at home.


Guidance counselors at Dearborn work hard to create a supportive space that allows students to access every aspect of transitional work. Dearborn Academy is designated as an SAT testing site to allow students to take this test in a familiar, small group setting with staff they know. We also established a chapter of the National Honor Society this past year to allow students the opportunity for achievement, leadership and service. 


The Dearborn team also recognizes that this transition is particularly stressful for caregivers, who are already managing the stress of caring for a student with significant needs, and purposefully created supports dedicated to them. Caregivers are essential partners in their student’s transitional process and opportunities are created for them to learn more about the transitional process. Our psycho-educational webinar series, 10-week trauma group and drop-in support opportunities ensure Dearborn caregivers are able to walk with their student through the challenge (and excitement!) of transitional planning.


Next Steps

While transition planning can be challenging and complicated work, the results can truly be amazing! Our students at Dearborn Academy are finding success and achieving their post-secondary goals. Many students have chosen to go to college after graduation and have been accepted to schools such as:


  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of Rhode Island,
  • Lesley University
  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design
  • Merrimack College
  • Rutgers University
  • Duquesne University
  • Plymouth State University
  • Bridgewater State
  • Emmanuel College
  • Montserrat College
  • Dean College
  • University of Massachusetts
  • Landmark College
  • Coastal Carolina University


We look forward to continuing to support our students in setting and achieving their post-secondary goals! View a short video about Dearborn Academy’s Guidance Department.