Back to school is often an exciting – and nerve racking – time in both parent’s and children’s lives. So much anticipation goes into this time of year – the right clothes, back packs, school supplies. Will he get the right teacher for him? Will she have friends in her class? Will I be able to manage volunteering in class this year? For those of you with children who have special learning needs, the questions are much more intense. Will I be arguing with the team again this year? Will the school provide the reading support that my son so desperately needs? What will happen when she acts out again? Who will make sure that she has the behavioral intervention and support that is appropriate? The questions and concerns can be endless.
As with all new beginnings, it is imperative to start the school year off “on the right foot”. Careful planning and being proactive will go a long way in making sure that your child has appropriate supports in place this school year. Here is a list of a few things that we, as advocates, have found to be particularly helpful for our families.
1. Reach out to your child’s teacher(s) early. This will mean stopping in the classroom and sending emails from day one. Make sure that the primary people working with your child has your contact information and knows that it is your expectation that you will be working together to help your child have a positive year. If you are to get daily or weekly information home, remind the group of this and let them know how best to communicate with you.
2. Set up team meetings now. Yes, it is only the first week of school, but get those team meetings on the calendar now. For those of you who have regular meetings (monthly, every 6 weeks, quarterly), you will sit easier knowing that you have a time and place to discuss concerns and issues. At your first team meeting, be sure to review page 8 of your child’s IEP with the school team. Discuss the modifications and accommodations that your child needs to properly access his education and how each member of the team will work together to ensure consistent implementation of these modifications/accommodations.
3. Ask for your child’s schedule. If your child has many different support services, it is often helpful for you to have the weekly schedule. This will also give you the opportunity to compare the schedule to the agreed upon service time on your child’s IEP to make sure that all service time is as it should be from the start.
4. Re-read your child’s IEP. You are and always will be your child’s strongest advocate. You need to be clear on what is documented and agreed upon in your child’s educational plan. You may need to work with your child’s new team to better understand his/her specific learning needs.
5. Make a list of your child’s 5 greatest strengths and 5 biggest concerns. Share this information with your child’s teacher as a means to help him/her better understand your child and your needs for your child within the school environment.
Next week, we’ll have some more tips on ways you can “help us help you” (to quote Jerry MacGuire!).
Always know that we are here to help support and guide you so that your child has an appropriate educational program and is able access learning. We consider working with each of you our daily gift and pleasure.
Happy Back to School!
Jill Chuckas, MSW
Special Education Advocate