Next Steps New Hampshire recognized Nute High School teacher Fern Downing as the 2016 Transition Professional of the Year, according to Foster’s Daily Democrat. Downing has “allowed many to realize the goal of high school graduation,” said the committee.
Downing is Nute High School’s Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) coordinator. In that role, she helps students find and get academic credit for vocational education, internships, and independent studies.
According to Downing, ELOs help “open the world up” for her students:
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.
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.
Next Steps NH is an organization that works to increase the college and career readiness of New Hampshire’s at-risk students and students with disabilities. Candidates for the award are nominated by their colleagues:
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.
Congratulations, Ms. Downing!