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Lifelong Learning

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Lifelong Learning

12/08/2012

From the first day a child is born, parents are there to nurture their child, to support them as they grow and develop. There is a lot to learn about raising a child under normal circumstances, but when a child has special needs parents must learn this whole new language of medical and special education terms (Overton, 2005). Parents enter this new world where navigating for the best interest of their child is riddled with challenges and obstacles that they need to somehow overcome. This is especially true when parents are dealing with the special education program in their child’s school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires parental involvement in the education of children with disabilities (Smith, Hilton, Murdick, & Gartin, 2005). The IDEA also guarantees civil rights to children with disabilities and encourages parents to act as an advocate for their child. This seems like it would encourage school professionals and parents to work close together in obtaining the best services needed for the child. Unfortunately it often leads to a struggle in balancing legislation, interpretation and understanding of the law, and a breakdown of communication (Yell, Shriner, & Katsiyannis, 2006). Parents often feel they have no voice in the educational system, which limits productive interaction between the parents and school personnel, and potentially has a negative impact on the student. Collaboration between school and family is necessary to successfully create a positive, enriched, learning environment for the student. There are a few ways that parents can achieve this: positive support of school participation including homework, communicating with the school on a regular basis, volunteering in the school, and participating in a school based decision making committee (Harry, 2008). The involvement of parents in their child’s education can lead to better student grades, higher academic achievement, greater student attendance, and increased parent satisfaction with teachers (Graue, 2005). Although it is important for families to be involved with their child’s school, school personnel should also strive to create a positive interaction with families of students. Carl Dunst (2002) states that school and parent collaboration is necessary, and if schools take on a more family-centered approach, it will help create a supportive environment and help to strengthen a family’s capacity to enhance and promote a child’s development and learning.
Parents have special knowledge about their child that school personnel might be unaware of. This aspect of parental involvement is especially important when applying special education services for a child with disabilities (Smith et al., 2005). That being said, parents need to understand that while they know a lot about their child overall, the school knows a lot about their child in an academic setting. It is very important to have open lines of communication and mutual respect for each other; to be able to bring together these different aspects of the child to create a successful intervention allowing complete access to education. The intervention for a student’s access to education is created and implemented through an Individualize Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a tool that defines what type of needs the student has and sets goals to be worked on throughout the year. An annual IEP meeting is held to reevaluate progress made on goals and set new ones (Sands, Kozleski, & French, 2000). The IEP meeting is generally one of the most difficult aspects for parents when advocating for their child. School personnel have a vast understanding of policy and regulation in regards to special education services. However, they are not always very forthcoming with this information. This lack of available information from the school initially deprives parents of the ability to fully understand their child’s rights and what services they are entitled to. This often occurs because school personal are trying to respond both to the needs of the child and the needs of the school district (Trainor, 2010), which limits how much information they can freely disclose, creating an unequal divide that parents must work hard to overcome. This is not a very family-centered practice, and is one area that schools need to adapt to be more parent friendly. During IEP meetings, parents and school professionals must work together to ensure that a positive and supportive learning environment is accessible for the child. Sometimes factors like cultural and linguistic differences make establishing a collaborative relationship between families and school professionals difficult (Hess, Molina, & Kozleski, 2006). In order to successfully create this supportive environment for the child, everyone must be able to effectively communicate, expressing their self in a caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable manner. Children start off in the world knowing a limited amount of information. Parents and teachers both set out to teach them what they need to know in order for them to succeed in the world. If they both have similar goals to help children develop and nurture their understanding, why do parents and teachers find it so hard to communicate with each other. Open communication is vital to proper collaboration. Figuring out what is best for the child should be a group effort, with everyone working together with mutual respect and understanding. In the end, everyone who advocates for children with disabilities wants to give them the ability to have the same education as children without disabilities; the strength to overcome the disability placed on them by society; and the capacity to learn in a positive environment supportive to their needs. Children are the future of this nation, and they deserve the best possible start, regardless of their social status, ethnicity, disability, cultural beliefs, or gender. Our country was established with the idea of equality among people, and there is no better place to start then in our education system.
Reference:

Dunst, C. J. (2002). Family-Centered practices: Birth through high school. The Journal of Special Education, 36(3), 141-149.
Graue, E. (2005). Theorizing and describing preserves teachers’ images of families and schooling. Teachers College Record, 107(1), 157-185.
Harry, B. (2008). Collaboration with culturally and linguistically diverse families: Ideal versus reality. Council for Exceptional Children, 74(3), 372-388.
Hess, R. S., Molina, A. M., & Kozleski, E. B. (2006). Until somebody hears me: Parent voice and advocacy in special educational decision making. British Journal of Special Education, 33(3), 148-157.
Overton, S. (2005). Collaborating with families: A case study approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Sands, D., Kozleski, E., & French, N. (2000). Inclusive education for the 21st century: A new introduction to special education. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Smith, T. E. C., Hilton, A., Murdick, N. L., & Gartin, B. C. (2005). Families and children with special needs: Professional and family partnerships. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Trainor, A. A. (2010). Diverse approaches to parent advocacy during special education home- school interactions: Identification and use of cultural and social capital. Remedial and Special Education, 31(1), 34-47.
Yell, M. L., Shriner, J. G., & Katsiyannis, A., (2006). Individuals with disabilities education improvement act of 2004 and IDEA regulations of 2006: Implications for educators, administrators, and teacher trainers. Focus on Exceptional Children, 39, 1-24.

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