Fern Downing, ELO Coordinator from Nute Middle-High School, won the 2016 Transition Professional of the Year Award at the 10th annual Transition Summit in Concord last week. Each year, the NH Transition Community of Practice accepts nominations from around the state to recognize excellence in transition practices that advance college, career, and life readiness for students through inclusive instructional practices or activities. Nominations recognize individuals in the field of transition who promote innovation, align student-centered practices and activities with post-school outcomes, and engage community partners such as employers, social service organizations, families and civic groups to also support successful transitions for students.
The NH Transition Community of Practice was itself honored to receive a commendation letter from Governor Maggie Hassan recognizing their ten years of organizing this conference.
This year, five candidates were nominated for the Transition Professional of the Year. They were nominated by co-workers and colleagues from outside their organizations who recognized the quality of work they have done and have witnessed the ways in which students have benefited from their work and dedication.
The winner, Fern Downing, has influenced scores of students, families, and colleagues to view the transition process in a new light filled with many possibilities.
Fern believes that all kids, regardless of abilities or disabilities, given the tools to engage in what they want to learn, will learn. She has used Extended Learning Opportunities in innovative ways to open the world up for her students by listening to their ideas, involving parents in creating plans, and engaging community partners to create new opportunities outside of classroom walls. To date, Fern has facilitated 59 learning experiences for students of all abilities, many of whom may not have graduated without her knowledge, support and encouragement. She has assisted students in expanding their learning by creating real-life learning opportunities specific to their interests.
Fern meets the students where they are, supporting their learning through research and reflection, and assisting students as they work on final products and presentations. She works closely with high school staff and the greater Milton community building learning experiences that are meaningful and beneficial to her students. Through Fern’s work, students learn about preparing for life after high school by developing essential soft skills and learning how to build relationships outside of school and home.
Over the years, Fern has reached out to many community partners and businesses on behalf of her students. She has coordinated internships in hospitals, schools, physical therapy clinics and even a local horse vet so students can get a glimpse of what those professions might entail. Student-driven independent studies she has coordinated and supported have covered a range of subjects from the traditional Astronomy to the unusual—Conspiracy Theories. She has created opportunities with civic organizations like Fire Explorers and the local theater group so students learn about recreational opportunities and groups available to them after high school. This past summer, one of her students built a “tiny house” with one of Nute’s faculty and was able to experience all aspects of construction project management from budgeting to banging nails. Congratulations to Fern!
We also want to recognize the other 2016 nominees: Aimee Picard from Somersworth High School, Samantha Quick Poltack from Gateways Community Services, Shonda Thibeault from Farmington High Schoo, and, Heidi Wyman from Strafford Learning Center. They are all doing impressive work.