There are many unique challenges that families face when learning of a disability (possibly for the first time at school-age), understanding that disability and the special education system, and accessing special education services.
The special education system requires schools to work collaboratively with families to develop the most appropriate educational plan for their children. The expertise and knowledge that parents of a student with a disability bring to the table about their child cannot be gained any other way.
Children and youth with disabilities whose families are more involved in their schools tend to be closer to grade level in reading, tend to receive better grades, have higher rates of social involvement, and are more likely to be employed.
The most powerful predictor of educational involvement is the extent to which teachers and other school personnel encourage, provide opportunities for, and actively support parental involvement.
Best Practices: Teacher preparation programs for both general and special education teachers should include required training about how to interact meaningfully with and engage families of students with disabilities. It is particularly important that this coursework include authentic experiences with real-life families.
Model #1: Collaboration between St. John Fisher College and The Advocacy Center in Rochester, NY Future teachers partner with families of students with disabilities in a course designed to encourage parent-teacher collaboration. The families, who are recruited and trained by the Advocacy Center, present their stories to the class. Teams of students work together with a family to research and solve a problem identified by the family.
Comments from teaching students who have received this training that included involvement with real families include: “We are more prepared for parents in the future and see that there can be a collaboration between teachers and parents.” “I gained the perspective that parents can be a resource to us in our teaching environment.” “This is the first time I understood what it must be like to have a child with a disability.” “This is the first time I feel like I've learned realistic strategies to work with parents.”
Standard 2: Communicating effectively Families and school staff engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning. Standard 3: Supporting student success Families and school staff continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively. PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
Best Practices: Schools should provide training, support, and leadership opportunities for parents of students with disabilities. Schools should create opportunities for parents to share their thoughts and feelings and to receive information and encouragement from others who understand what they are experiencing.
Model #2: Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership Nearly 90 moms and dads raising a child who receives special education services work directly for local school systems across Georgia. These parent mentors work to build a bridge joining administrators, teachers, families and communities, and provide parents with resources, tips, and ideas to help guide students through their school career and transition to adult life. Their firsthand knowledge and experience of parenting a child with a disability helps parent mentors support families and build understanding among educators.
“Parent mentors play a major role in assisting, supporting and educating our families in ways we as special education directors would never be able to do.” “Parent mentors are the real connectors in communities. They are skilled at bringing together parents and professionals for the purpose of creating positive change in their communities.” Comments from school staff and service providers in Georgia include:
When parents of at-risk middle school students were targeted by parent mentors, the students’ scores on statewide reading assessments improved. In school districts where parent mentors focused on the provision of timely services to 0- to 3-year-old children with disabilities, more than 96% of children referred by their third birthday received services on time in 2008 – an improvement of over 20% in two years. Benefits of the Parent Mentor Partnership
Standard 1: Welcoming all families into the school community Families are active participants in the life of the school, and feel welcomed, valued, and connected to each other, to school staff, and to what students are learning in school. Standard 4: Speaking up for every child Families are empowered to be advocates for their own and other children, to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success. PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
For more information: St. John Fisher Model: www.eparent.com/main_channels_education/Planting_Seeds.asp Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership: http://parentmentors.org/Documents/Parent_Mentor_Web.pdf