Jayson McDowell headshot
Jayson McDowell

The School of Education has secured a $1.5 million grant from the New York State Education Department to serve students with disabilities transitioning to adulthood. Students in the state who have a disability have a much lower rate of high school graduation than their peers without. The numbers of students with disabilities living independently and entering the workforce are also significantly lower than their non-disabled peers. The new Syracuse University Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) hopes to improve these outcomes over the next five years through community partnerships and support services, specifically focusing on underserved youth with disabilities in Central New York.

Associate Professor of Inclusive Education and Disability Studies Christine Ashby and Lawrence B. Taishoff Assistant Professor of Inclusive Education Beth Myers are co-principal investigators on the grant. They were successful in securing the Pre-ETS Initiative at Syracuse by leveraging the depth of experience that the School of Education has in working with and advocating for students with disabilities at all levels, from early childhood through post-secondary.

The $1.5 million grant for the Pre-ETS Initiative is in addition to the recent $9 million in grant funds the School of Education received from the New York State Education Department’s Office of Special Education (OSE). The Pre-ETS Initiative is facilitated by the same NYS Office of Special Education Partnership.

By providing early support to students with disabilities in secondary, post-secondary, non-traditional or alternative education programs as well as traditionally underserved students (students in foster care, juvenile detention or with refugee or immigrant status) the Pre-ETS team will build a pipeline for students to continue to access long-term services and resources into adulthood.

“We are thrilled to have received this funding,” says Myers. “We are looking forward to building the Pre-ETS team and charting pathways to success for students.”

New Pre-ETS Program Director Jayson McDowell is excited about the potential impact this grant can have on students in the community. “Providing early access to career exploration and work experiences is linked to higher outcomes of students graduating high school, attending post-secondary education and training programs, and higher rates of employment,” he says. “I look forward to working with our school districts, community partners, Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR) and, of course, the students.”

McDowell and Pre-ETS staff are developing recruitment and referral systems with the goal of enrolling at least 250 students annually into the service. In collaboration with many school districts in the region and community partners, they will conduct needs assessments with all enrolled students and then provide targeted services in up to five areas related to pre-employment transition, including job exploration counseling, counseling on post-secondary opportunities, work-based readiness and independent living skills, work-based learning and self-advocacy. These services will be individualized depending on student need and provided individually and in small groups at locations convenient for students and families.