Building Bridges: An Interview with Special Education Transition Teacher, Abby Hughes

Special Education Transition Teacher Abby Hughes discusses her challenges and successes in helping students with disabilities turn their post-grad dreams into realities.

Abby Hughes, a Special Education Transition Teacher in San Antonio, Texas, goes above and beyond on a daily basis to ensure her students’ futures are as bright as their abilities. To prepare special education students for life after graduation, Abby performs in multiple roles as a self-proclaimed “marketer of sorts” for students and their skills. She serves as the connecting link between the community, students, businesses, and her school, to help provide students with the training and opportunities they need to make their dreams come true. Abby’s passion for helping individuals with special needs shines through her daily efforts to show that abilities outweigh disabilities. We spoke with her about how ONEder is helping her empower students to tackle their training for adulthood with more independence and confidence than ever.

Tell us a bit about your job. What do you do as a Transition Coordinator on a day-to-day basis?

In my job, everything I do is communicating with the community and building relationships with different businesses out in the community. After our students have already chosen their interests and gone through some skill-building, I’m the one who helps them set up their new adult life or start building their schedule and their story.

I go out in the community, based on their interests, and do job hunts and look for people who are interested in hiring our students, or who can connect with our students to get those stories started. For example, I have a student that’s interested in animal care, but not just for dogs and cats. He was interested in working in our zoo in San Antonio. So in two years of building a rapport with the zoo… [I was] “marketing” our student and his skills. This student has now been volunteering there for two years, he’s applied for four different jobs, had four different interviews, they’ve gotten to know him, they’ve gotten to know me. I didn’t even have to approach them about it—they’ve carved out a job for him. He’s just been offered a job this year—this week.

It’s all about building rapport and educating the businesses about our students’ abilities.

…I have a hub where students come and meet with me. On my case load right now, I have 15 students. It differentiates throughout the school year as students get jobs, and we get their adult schedules set up. That means not just jobs, but recreational and social activities. Some of my students are going to college. When we get them all set up and going, and we feel confident that they’re independent and ready to exit, then we start exiting them. Then, we have new core students move into our caseload. So, throughout this last school year, I’ve had over 20 students.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face at school?

So, everybody has a place and a purpose, right? We just have to be the ones to help [students] discover what that is, and then help them get established. The main struggle is educating and getting other people in the community—besides special educators—to see their purpose, their passions, their abilities.

I had an example last summer. A student wanted to start a screen-printing business. So, I was going in different businesses and marketing him. He’s an individual who has autism. He’s verbal, but when you go into new environments, he gets nervous. I went into one T-shirt business, and the owner looked at me and said, “We need to quit wasting our time here. Quit wasting my time, quit wasting your time.” I said, “I’m not wasting anybody’s time.” He followed my student and became very nervous. He eventually told me what skills the student might need in order to succeed. We took this information back to campus, the student worked on some skills, and then I was able to go back.

We had a meeting this year where we showed the gentleman the student’s skills and I said, “I’m not wasting your time. I want you to get to know him as a person.” He ended up hiring our student, and that student works there full-time now. The gentleman looked back at me and said, “Persistence pays off.”

The biggest struggle is that everybody fears—it’s their fear of the unknown. We are educating our community on our students and their abilities.

How does ONEder help you overcome those challenges?

There’s certain times of the day when we can’t be there with them; we can’t be there all day long. Then, when they’re learning, there’s so many different fields that are being learned on the job throughout the day.

With the student I mentioned before, and his T-shirt business, he could do the routine, and he got that down pretty independently, but there’s certain parts of the day—downtime—when he would get stuck and just didn’t know where to go.

I was able to use the app to build video modeling for him. When the production stops, he’s not able to start on his own and complete a totally different schedule than his work schedule. For example, initiating a task. When the work stops, he was supposed to go and choose a different job to do and initiate it. All the coworkers were doing that; this student wasn’t doing that, but with the app, he can be independent.

It gave him specific examples. I gave him a built-in schedule of what to do next, and the I did a little video modeling of examples of what he could do. For example, going to pack different boxes, sweeping the floor, going to clean screens. That broke the schedule down for him. Repetition is key. Then, having that visual and be able to quick, just right from his phone, he’s super independent.

How do your students respond to ONEder?

I use ONEder with individual students and their schedules… I have some students where I’m going to start to use ONEder daily. I have one student in particular with our mass transit system; I’m going to be using it for his travel training. I’ve done the actual one-on-one teaching with him; but, like with the others, we can’t be there every part of the day. There are certain times in his traveling that he gets stuck. I’m going to start using it with him to help with that.

I love the travel training. I’ve used that for the mass transit. Then, for Uber. I created my own lessons with Uber. It’s not just for the students; it’s actually helped some of the parents as well. My personal goal over this summer is the transition curriculum. I’m really interested to see it, and then bring that to our campus.

…I can see that ONEder is going to start saving me time. It’s a place where I can put all the pictures and videos, and I don’t have to recreate the wheel, as far as going back in and finding and remaking different things on my computer. Some of my students are very similar in that they could use the same, if not similar, visuals or tools.

In addition to your students, are there any teachers who inspire you?

I have two teachers in particular in mind. Melissa Cornelius is so dedicated every day and is really good about individualizing her students. She works on skill-building and making sure that the students get the skills that they need. I know when they come from her to me, they’re successful and ready for adult life. I feel confident in that.

Another teacher that comes to mind is Barb Derker. She’s the same way. They pour their heart into making sure that the students get the skills they need.

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