Since its inception in 2000, the Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment has made a tremendous impact on the lives of students and adults with disabilities in Oklahoma and throughout the United States through its research, personnel preparation activities, and community outreach. Dedicated by OU President David L. Boren in May 2001 and made possible by generous gifts from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, the Zarrow Center was founded to facilitate student-directed educational and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities and to prepare OU students to assume leadership roles in schools, universities and support organizations.

To fulfill the Zarrow Center mission, James Martin, Zarrow Family Professor of Special Education and Director of the center said, “In the fall of 2000 when the Zarrow Center opened its doors there were few transition education activities occurring in secondary programs across the state — very, very few. Transition education practices are essential to increase the number of students with disabilities going from high school to further education and employment. We also needed actual transition education examples for our OU students to experience. It’s one thing to talk about transitional education practices in a class; but for students to understand the impact of quality transition education they need secondary practicum experiences where teachers implement transition education practices, so that OU students can see what they are learning about in their classes. These experiences make a big difference in what undergraduate students will do as future special education teachers.” So, much of what the Zarrow Center has done the past decade has been to implement multiple strategies to improve secondary transition education practices across the state as a foundation for future efforts. This past fall semester, for instance, our undergraduate students had practicum sites where they experienced transition education practices firsthand. In the last decade, we have gone from having no transition education practices being implemented at practicum sites, to transition education becoming a common practice that our pre-service students experience.”

With support from the Oklahoma Department of Education, Martin, along with Amber McConnell, a graduate of the OU Special Education doctoral program and a research associate at the Zarrow Center, wrote a handbook for educators on how to implement secondary transitional education practices. The handbook explains what special educators in Oklahoma need to do to implement secondary transition education practices. According to Martin, “This handbook operationalizes Oklahoma State Department of Education beliefs and practices about secondary transitional education.” The Handbook has been disseminated to educators across the state and is available for download at the Oklahoma Department of Education website.

The Zarrow Center has received almost $6 million in federal and state grant dollars for different projects, with a few offering targeted training to increase the quality of special education personnel. “For example, we recently completed a doctoral leadership grant that enabled us to recruit special education teachers who are African American and Native American from across the country into the OU Special Education Doctoral Program to become transition education specialists, and to receive the preparation needed to become higher education professors and educational leaders,” said Martin. “A new five-year project provides fellowships to master level students to become transition specialists that will further improve transition education practices in high schools around the state.” Martin continued, “The reception of this has just been incredible, we have had many more applicants last spring than we could accept.” Kendra Williams-Diehm, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Martin co-direct the Transition Scholar project.  Another cohort of Transition Scholars will be selected this spring semester. This grant also enabled the OU Special Education Program to create a new Transition Education Emphasis area as a part of the master’s degree in special education.

An example of the type of projects that the Zarrow Center completes is one that was funded by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and completed in collaboration with staff from the Oklahoma ABLE Tech at Oklahoma State University. They examined ways to teach high school students with disabilities how to attain their transition goals, and how assistive technology could assist with this process. For most people setting a goal increases the likelihood that that goal will be obtained, but for most students with disabilities they also must be taught how to attain the goals they set. Jodie Martin, a Zarrow Center research assistant who is unrelated to James Martin, coordinated this two-year project, which was implemented at three Oklahoma high schools. Students learned the goal attainment knowledge and when they implemented most of what they were taught, short-term transition goals were attained. Assistive technology increased students’ use of what they were taught and resulted in a greater number of attained goals. The first study will soon be published in a major transition education journal, and the second study will soon be submitted for publication.

The Zarrow Center web page has become a repository for transition education materials that provide educators access to lesson packages, assessments and other helpful information. Zarrow Center personnel have developed and field-tested different lesson materials teachers may access at no cost on Zarrow Center website. The most popular of these is called ME! – a lesson package for teaching self-awareness and self-advocacy for secondary-age students with disabilities that teachers around the world are downloading. Another lesson package, titled Student Directed Transition Planning, is popular among high school special education teachers as a tool to teach students to become actively involved in discussions associated with planning their lives after graduating from high school.

The center continues to develop new transition education materials. Zarrow Center researchers are developing a new transition assessment funded by a $2.1 million grant from the National Center for Special Education Research that Martin and Maeghan Hennessey from the Department of Educational Psychology obtained. Martin, Hennessey, and their colleagues, including Robert Terry from the OU Psychology department, gathered all of the known research on non-academic behaviors and experiences associated with post-school employment and further education success of former high school students with disabilities. These include skills such as students with disabilities understanding how their disability impacts their performance, knowing their strengths, attaining goals, participating in their education planning meetings, to holding a paid job while in high school. According to Amber McConnell, research coordinator for the project, “We gathered all of the research, developed constructs, then developed assessment items which have been revised numerous times.” McConnell continued, “We want to create a transition assessment that educators, students and family members can use that will generate annual transition goals based upon students’ needs that, when attained, will increase students’ likelihood of postsecondary education and employment.”

According to McConnell, “This year we have about 180 educators involved in the assessment research project, along with approximately 1,800 high school students with disabilities and their families. Our goal is to have a sample of 2,000 students, and I really think we will do it.” The students are from all across the United States, including some in Alaska and even from the island of Samoa. Zarrow Center staff will follow along students through their last two years of high school and into their adult lives to determine their employment and further education outcomes. “We will go back and identify the relationship between their initial high school assessment profile and what they are doing after high school to see what items on the assessment predicted the outcome,” said Martin. Most of the educators who have participated in the project in the past continue to participate. The teachers have told the Zarrow Center researchers that their students really enjoy participating in the project because it makes them feel important. The best part of the project is that educators are finding the information the assessment is generating useful.  “There’s no other assessment like it and in fall 2013 we’ll have the assessment up on the website for educators worldwide to access to help identify annual transition goals among their students, which when attained, will increase the students likelihood of post-school employment and education success,” Martin added.

McConnell believes there is a big emphasis right now on Common Core Standards, but the academic skills these represent are only part of what students with disabilities need for posthigh school employment and education. “They (the common core standards) only focus on the academic part of the picture, and we know there’s more to success after high school than learning academic skills. We are advocating that schools also begin to focus on teaching non-academic behaviors associated with post-school success.”   She continued, “There’s not one person who can’t think of someone they went to high school with who made the grades but did not succeed in life; there are other factors involved. It takes more than reading, writing and math to succeed. To make students, especially those with disabilities, college and career ready, it’s going to take more than the academic standards alone. This is where are new assessment can play a useful role.”

The Zarrow Center also has been working with the Oklahoma Transition Council, a statewide group of agency representatives, parents, special education directors and teachers, career technology staff, and higher education representatives who are interested in secondary transition education and what can be done to improve it. Every fall the Council puts on the Oklahoma Transition Institute, where Oklahoma educators come together in teams organized geographically. The participants receive best practice information, and then the teams incorporate the new information into plans to improve transition education in their own area. “It’s a great process to receive the information educators can take back to their schools and use. We’ve had several teachers tour the transition education programs of other schools to see what they are doing and how it can be implement in their own school. These examples are all a direct result of the Institute.” said McConnell. Martin added, “It’s a collaboration of many people from across the state.” With support from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Martin, McConnell, and other Zarrow Center staff have conducted over the past few years dozens of
transition education professional development workshops for OTI teams across the state.

One project the Zarrow Center wants to work on in the future is the development of a model post-secondary education for young adul t s with intellectual disabilities. “We’re exploring the possibilities of getting such a program started at OU.” Martin noted.  Jennifer Burnes, a Zarrow Center research assistant, is leading the effort to develop this “Think College” type program, with the support of parents of youth with disabilities, high school educators, agency staff, and higher education representatives. They hope this new postsecondary option will be open in the next year or so and will become an educational and living experience for older high school students with disabilities that will lead to community employment. This college experience program will enable students with intellectual and other disabilities that typically would not be admitted to college to audit classes, experience jobs across campus, and interact with college students. “Ideally, we would like to establish this program as a model that other universities around the state can replicate,” said Martin, “but we are just starting that endeavor, so stay tuned as much remains to be done to get this ‘Think College’ type program running.”

For more information on the Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment, visit their website at


2 Responses to “The Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment”

  1. Valerie on October 8th, 2013 11:20 am

    Please tell me about the program and how to apply please. Thank you Valerie

  2. fran9524 on October 8th, 2013 11:52 am

    I will forward your information to the Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment and they will contact you directly.

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