School is starting up again here in Mecklenburg County and Council for Children’s Rights wants to help families get off to a strong start. Our First Wednesdays series begins its new season of special education and school discipline workshops on September 6 with great information to get parents, caretakers, and professional alike started on the path to a successful school year.
The 2017-2018 series has been expanded to nine monthly sessions covering tops from general tips for effective advocacy to IEP and Section 504 plans to handling school discipline issues. All of the workshops take place on the First Wednesday of the month in the Children and Family Services Center. Workshops begin at 12:00 noon and run for approximately 90 minutes.
Stephanie Klitsch, assistant director of Individual Advocacy and one of the First Wednesday presenters, shares some a few thoughts on the goals for the series and how parents and others who care for children can benefit from the training.
What was the idea behind creating the First Wednesday workshops?
Educational advocacy, and special education advocacy particularly, can be complicated and overwhelming for parents, caregivers, and other professionals working with children. In 2013, the Individual Advocacy Team began our First Wednesdays training series to make information about how best to advocate for a child’s educational needs more accessible to families. We wanted to create a regular opportunity throughout the school year for parents, caregivers, and professionals working with children to learn more about children’s educational rights and how to advocate for the services their child may need to be successful in school.
What are your top suggestions for parents who want to be a more effective advocate for their child in school?
a) Keep up to date with your child’s progress in school
Most school systems now have a website and/or smart phone app that allow you to see your child’s grades, attendance, and assignments. Check this resource regularly and follow up with your child’s teachers about your questions and/or concerns.
b) Get to know your child’s teachers
Teachers often know a lot about your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Thank them regularly for the work they do to help support your child!
c) Put each communication in writing
As much as possible, put your communication to the school in writing, especially if you are requesting a meeting or services. Keep a copy of the letter, email, or note for your own records. This way, you have documentation of your requests and the responses you have received.
d) Keep your child’s education records in one place
This includes report cards, letters from the school, suspension notices, IEPs, evaluations, and other school-related documents. Create a folder in your email account to keep all school-related email communication together.
e) Schedule meetings with the school
The first step to resolving any conflicts with school staff is to schedule a meeting to talk through concerns. You should ask questions and take notes. As much as possible, try to stay calm and rational during the meeting.
f) Bring someone with you to important meetings
This person can be anyone who helps you to feel supported, such as a friend, relative, your student’s service provider, or advocate. Typically, there are several school employees present at meetings, and having someone to help you advocate may make you feel more comfortable and keep the meeting focused and productive.
Do you need any special skills, experience or knowledge to participate in these workshops?
Absolutely not! The workshops are designed for all levels of experience with educational advocacy. We start each workshop by going over key terminology to ensure that everyone has the same base level of knowledge to fully understand each topic.
What do you hope people take away from the experience?
I want parents, caregivers, and professionals to feel empowered by the workshops. I want parents to remember that they know their child the best, their input is extremely valuable, and they should make their voice heard at the school. This advocacy is even more effective when families make a point to develop strong relationships at the school.
What are some of the best ways a parent or caretaker can develop their skills as a child advocate?
Preparation is critical for impactful educational advocacy. This means parents and caregivers taking the time to know and understand their child’s educational strengths and weaknesses. At home, families should be regularly discussing what is happening at school each day so parents can catch issues before they become major problems. If the child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, parents should be reviewing them regularly and asking the child if they are receiving the services and accommodations included on those documents. Being an effective child advocate means knowing what is happening with your child’s education.
Interested in attending or learning more? Visit our Events Calendar for individual course descriptions or download the 2017-2018 First Wednesdays Brochure. Feel free to share this information with others who might benefit from the training.
Reservations and questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.