Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 21, 2013

A 'special' journey

FIFE LAKE — A high school diploma normally is considered a good thing, but it hasn’t worked out that way for Daniel Everson.

Everson took mostly special education classes at Forest Area Community Schools and graduated in 2004. Yet he was nowhere close to high school level and suffered from bipolar disorder, ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder.

Daniel’s diploma, his parents discovered, made him permanently ineligible for post-high school services offered by the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.

“I feel they should have kept me in until I knew how to adapt to the real world,” said Daniel, who struggles for words.

Now high school students with special needs can get real-world training with a new TBAISD semester course called “Transition Central.” For 2 ½ hours each day, students will learn skills such as riding public buses, cooking and making a budget.

The TBAISD created the class in response to an analysis of how students with disabilities do after high school, said Carol Greilick, assistant superintendent for special education.

“When it’s clear there are needs not being met, we need to do a better job, and shame on us if we don’t,” she said.

But Carl and Rene’ Everson are living with the consequences of Daniel’s early exit and want to tell the story of their two sons, both cognitively impaired with mental health challenges.

On a recent early evening, Carl and Rene’ were both at their small Fife Lake ranch home, cluttered with children’s toys and Daniel’s clothes in the living room, his makeshift bedroom. Carl demonstrated to Daniel, 27, how to make bean soup, while Rene’ tutored his 9-year-old stepdaughter.

The couple knew little about “transitioning” Daniel to the real world when they met with an IEP team in the spring of 2004 in his senior year. An IEP, an individualized education program, is a written agreement about how a child with disabilities will be educated.

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