It was now time to set the plan in motion.
Initially we met monthly throughout the school year. I selected three staff we called PEERs, Parent Educator Exception Resources, from the pool of the training teams. Two of those PEERs were bilingual, to meet the need of our high rate of Spanish speaking parents, all were parents of children with disabilities. We also selected three teachers as PEERs. These six parents and teachers PEERs would hold seats on the Advisory Council and act as resource to parents and educators district wide. The Advisory focused on enhancing and expanding services for children and adults with disabilities in our schools and community. We decided the first step in making this happen was to provide information to parents and professionals giving all the access to the same materials. Schools were given an opportunity to be provided a parent/professional school library valued at $1600.00 and middle and high schools received an additional $600.00 for transition specific materials. (Collier County Transition Tool Kit)
I asked the question: ”Why should parents of children with disabilities have to go anywhere other than the school their child attends to get the information they need?”
There are two ways you learn that your child has a disability. One is a medical model where a physician informs you that there is a disability and the second is when the school system informs you that your child is not developing at the same rate as his/her peers. In focusing where information (Parenting a Child With Special Needs) should be made available to parents I realized that parents would be spending more time in their children’s schools than anywhere else. What better place then, to house a sustainable source of information?
Most school districts applied the same approach to information as they do to serving children, put the information in one place and then make parents come there. Although clustering is convenient for administrators, and certainly more cost effective, it doesn’t meet the needs of the parents nor is it conducive to having parents come into the school to get the information from the professionals that teach their child. What we chose instead was placing information site based for parents and professionals to utilize.
General education teachers get a bare minimum of instruction on special the education process when earning a general education teaching degree. Making the materials available to all in the school was the approach we chose. The selection of resource materials also reflected that need in being on a level for parents and educators to use fostering site based staff development.
The selection of the original materials was referred to a subcommittee composed of parents and teachers. The materials were approved by the Advisory and we began to purchase the library materials. (Parent/Staff Libraries for Students With Disabilities) The cost was somewhat prohibitive and restricted us to only placing five libraries per year in schools. To qualify to receive the library schools first had to schedule and conduct a parent training. (Introduction to Special Education)
This project took ten years to complete but now ALL schools in the district have a sustainable resource for parents and professionals that is easily updated. An example was the release of the “Building the Legacy” training materials. We simply provided all schools with copies of the CDs to add to their libraries. We did the same with CADRE materials. (The National Center on Dispute Resolution in Special Education) Any resource that was available could now be placed in every school with minimum effort. I continued to add information to the website as well keeping the information as current as possible.
We wrote for a grant and were able to purchase two Arts For All kits housed in the schools but available for community agencies to borrow as well. (Zot Artz)
We developed a brochure in three languages to provide parents an explanation of who we are and what we do. (Sharing the Commitment Brochures) In other discussions of how parents would find us it was decided that we would add the information to the IEP notice form. If it was your first IEP or last you would have access to the information on the notice of meeting. (Sample Notice Form) As each need was identified by our Advisory it was referred to subcommittee and the solution then presented at the next meeting. We identified a need for sensitivity training and the solution was a train the trainer model focused on fourth graders. (Special… Just Like You) We then began to look at how schools would be able to utilize this site based information to reach parents. (Establishing Site-Based Resource Parents) A letter was sent to each building principal asking them to nominate a parent approved by their School Advisory Council to act as the resource for other parents in their schools and, using the train the trainer model, provide training for the parents in each school. We provided all schools with a wide variety of materials made available through the national parent alliance (Parent Center Network). Schools could now offer training to both parents and professionals in their schools whenever they chose to.
This allowed them to continue to build for capacity by training, in house, those who would be coming behind them to assume the role of resource parent.
Working together we were able to achieve more in a short time that had ever been accomplished before and both parents and schools felt ownership of what we had done. The shared responsibility fostered a shared pride in what we were able to achieve together. This shared responsibility and easy access to concise information provided by the schools to parents did much in the way of reducing conflict and reestablishing trust. We have an annual conference planned and implemented by parents and district staff. All of our activities are supported by our School Board and Superintendent.
To date we are continuing to increase the numbers of site based resource parents until we reach our goal of 100%. Our data has already reflected a decrease in parent conflict to the point of non-existence. Parents are accessing information from the School District site based, or by accessing the website, myself, or my staff.
In essence what we have accomplished is to bring national evidenced based, best practice, OSEP vetted parent materials to every school. Providing materials written by parents for parents and presented by parents.
Sustainable site based parent information, resource, training and support, in the school the child attends.