Supporting Special Education Services

Jill Hellman, PTA Comrades Committee Chair, Clover Hill Elementary School, Midlothian, VA

SnowflakeReceiving news that your child qualifies for special education services can be a lonely and overwhelming experience. At first, there is relief that your child will receive the support that he or she needs. Then there is apprehension and sadness that he or she now has a label. It can be challenging at first for parents who receive this news to find and access the emotional support and community resources they need to support their children.

Clover Hill Elementary School PTA, which embraces inclusive practices in education, identified a need for establishing a committee focused on the needs of students with disabilities. In the four years since the committee –the Comrades–was established, it has become a strong parent-teacher partnership that strives to provide access to resources to parents and improve two-way communication between families and school.

To build awareness and recruit new members, the Comrades send home flyers in student backpacks at the start of every school year, maintain a web page with community resources, and have initiated an annual community yard sale to raise funds for the teachers on the Exceptional Education team. With funds raised through the first community yard sale and support of local vendors and charitable donations from many in the community, the Comrades purchased iPads for every exceptional education teacher, which greatly improved students’ and teachers’ access to assistive technology in the classroom.

The Comrades also raise awareness through the regular confidential dissemination of emails drafted by the chairperson and forwarded as a blind copy by a teacher on the exceptional education team to parents and guardians of students receiving special education services. In this way, the Comrades regularly communicate information about upcoming monthly meetings, fundraisers, and local events and resources for children with disabilities and their families.

In an effort to encourage and promote inclusive educational practices at Clover Hill, the Comrades facilitate a performance during Inclusive Schools Week – a national program to promote inclusion in schools. Performances are selected based upon themes related to the Inclusive Schools Week mission. In addition to these performances, the Comrades decorate bulletin boards for Inclusive Schools Week that encourage students to celebrate diversity and value the unique qualities in every individual. The above image shows the bulletin board decorated by members of the Comrades committee for Inclusive Schools Week 2014 with the theme “Every snowflake is unique just like you.”

Through the Comrades committee, parents have developed friendships and found comfort in knowing they are not alone in the often emotional but rewarding process of learning to advocate for their children. In the process, they are also building a stronger community and enhancing resources for students and teachers.

Establishing special education committees within PTA organizations is necessary and important to improving the educational experience for all students. Every voice counts and should be heard. I encourage PTAs across the country to establish a committee dedicated to giving a voice to students with disabilities and those who advocate for them to ensure that everyone is heard.

Jill is a mother of three children and has been an active member on her local PTA for several years. She is a founding member of the Comrades, a committee dedicated to supporting special education services at Clover Hill Elementary School in Midlothian, VA.

#GivingTuesday: Help Make Every Child’s Dream a Reality

Giving Tuesday Web Ad 4The holiday season is a time of hustle and bustle – bargain hunting, shopping for the perfect gifts and spending hours cooking, decorating and preparing for guests. The season also is a time of thanksgiving and for giving back. We’re all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard of #GivingTuesday? December 2, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated #GivingTuesday – a day set aside to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back to the organizations in our communities working to make a difference and effect positive change.

All children deserve a high-quality education and access to services that will enable them to reach their full potential. But across the country, schools and communities are facing challenges and budget shortfalls, and as a result, important lessons and opportunities are being left out.

Nationwide, PTAs are working hard to fill in the gaps. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun and making sure all children have access to the arts, to teaching kids how to make healthy and safe decisions every day – PTAs are helping schools improve; communities grow and prosper; and making a difference for the education, health and welfare of all children.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking for your support of PTAs across the country and the important work they are doing by donating this #GivingTuesday to National PTA. National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs rely on to effect change and fill in the gaps in their schools and communities. The association also empowers parents to speak up and advocate for their and all children – before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC.

National PTA is the conscience of the country for children issues. Through advocacy and family and community education, National PTA has established programs and called for legislation in areas including:

  • Early childhood education
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Family engagement
  • School safety
  • Juvenile justice
  • Arts in education

And because of the work of National PTA, our nation has child labor laws to protect against unsafe working practices and conditions, kindergarten is a part of our public school system, hot lunches are served every day to millions of children in schools, and a separate juvenile justice system exists so that children are not tried and incarcerated as adults.

As the leader of National PTA, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of PTAs across the country on families, schools and communities. With your support, National PTA and PTAs nationwide will continue and build upon programs and efforts that are improving the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s dream a reality. Together, we can make this happen.

Thank you for your support of PTA on #GivingTuesday and all year round.

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Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.