My name is Kathleen Beaulieu, and I am the Special Education Administrator in the Somerset Berkley Regional District in Somerset, Massachusetts. In April 2015, a door opened which brought excitement and opportunity to our district and the students who are enrolled in the special education department. Matthew, a very accomplished, smart and charismatic young man along with his school team and family began to investigate opportunities that would lead to the acquisition of real life skills that would affect decisions he would make as he began to prepare for life after high school.
Attorney Vanda Khadem was the shining star that brought real life opportunity to the Somerset Berkley Regional School District’s special education program. The Autism Higher Education Foundation Paralegal Assistant Training Program with Attorney Khadem leading the way, along with Register Gina De Rossi and her team at the Bristol County Probate and Family Court began the process of securing a job site for Matthew where he could learn specific office skills required in the legal field. This opportunity for Matthew not only taught him specific job-related skills but, in my opinion, did so much more for him than anyone could imagine. Matthew, along with his job coach, Lisa Simpson, began working at the courthouse every week for about 3 hours. During this time, he learned to file, copy, and assemble packets and case logs related to the legal world. The “soft skills” that we often learn indirectly were directly taught in the natural setting during the “critical learning periods” on the job. In education, we know that this type of learning is more meaningful which in turn is generalized more successfully. We have seen these soft skills generalized to other settings. Matthew, who is on the autism spectrum, was quite reserved, by nature. Over the past school year, we have seen Matthew become more social and interactive amongst his peers and the adults in which he has contact with throughout the school day. Matthew has been more receptive to new ventures such as participating in the Self-Advocacy Leadership Series program at Bridgewater State University where he presented a power point, to his classmates, on a topic that means a great deal to him: Technology. During the summer of 2016, Matthew was able to secure a paid job, within the community in which he lives, at a local convenience store and gas station. He worked 15 hours per week for the summer through Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
He continues to work in the position of office intern at the Taunton Probate and Family Court and has refined his skills, has become more of an independent learner and is an active problem solver throughout the day both on the job and at school. He currently has his driver’s license and is participating in a class that supports his interest in the area of TV and radio production.
This internship opportunity has made a significant impact on Matthew’s learning opportunities, self-esteem, and self-determination and advocacy skills. As an administrator, but first a special education teacher, it is critical to bring meaning to learning so that the skills needed for life are generalized. As a senior, Matthew is well on his way to generalizing those skills, and I attribute this progress to not only learning within the school building but having the opportunity to get a taste of the working world and all its wonders.
Thank you, Bristol County Probate and Family Court for allowing Matthew to learn with you and thanks to Autism Higher Education Foundation for opening the door and shining the light!!
-Kathleen E. Curry Beaulieu, Special Education Administrator
Somerset Berkley Regional District