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Special Needs: How to Advocate for Your Child’s Education

August 27, 2015

By Lynn Samartino

Special Needs: How to Advocate For Your Child's Education | All parents should know how to advocate for their child's education, but it's especially important for parents of children with special needs. This special education teacher takes you through three key strategies to advocating for your child. | A teen sits with his head in his hand while struggling to take a test.

All parents should know how to advocate for their child’s education, but for parents of children with special needs, it is especially important. As a special education teacher, I want to get to know the parents of my students, build a rapport with them and involve them in their child’s education.

Many parents focus on their child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being at home (which is very important), but leave the entirety of education to teachers. As the YOU Program demonstrates, these pieces go hand-in-hand, so a teacher-parent partnership is critical for a child’s academic success.

To ensure your child receives a highly qualified education in accordance with their special education services, work on these three things: knowledge, involvement, and communication.

To advocate for your child, you must educate yourself on school details and your child’s educational rights.

  1. Understand your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
    All students receiving special education services have an IEP. Each year, you will review that IEP with necessary school staff to ensure your child is making progress through goals and objectives. This is the guide to your child’s education.

    Prepare for the annual meetings by learning what the IEP fully entails, why your child has one, what the components mean, and how it is implemented. The IEP lays out the framework for your child’s education and the school should follow everything outlined in it.

    If you need help understanding the IEP, meet with your child’s teacher or a staff member who can explain each section. Although it is discussed thoroughly during the IEP meeting, if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to schedule a follow-up meeting.

  2. Speak with other parents at the school.
    Get to know other parents of the school community. You can learn from each other, including how to successfully advocate for your child’s education (and possibly what doesn’t work as well).

When you are involved in your child’s education, you are well informed and have a better understanding about how to advocate for your child. When teachers and staff see and know that you’re involved, we can better collaborate and partner with you.

  1. Volunteer in the classroom.
    By volunteering and occasionally being present in the classroom, you can ensure that your child’s IEP is being implemented appropriately. If you have a paid job in the classroom, you can help support the IEP implementation. Through these opportunities, you can communicate regularly with the teacher to make sure the appropriate services are being provided in the least restrictive environment.
  2. Attend parent-teacher conferences and school-sponsored events.
    Plan ahead and attend parent-teacher conferences, family reading night, or any other events offered throughout the school year. Build rapport with the community, school, staff, and teachers at these events. You can learn more about education and how the school operates.

Whether asking questions, communicating your child’s needs, or just discussing an assignment, communicate regularly with all the teachers and staff that your child works with daily. Technology provides ample opportunities for communication, so use it to your advantage.

  1. Email key staff members.
    You or your child’s teacher can start an email chain with the necessary school staff so that everyone can work together for his or her educational success. Regular emails are convenient and make it easy to check in quickly.
    At the beginning of the school year, share your email address with the teacher so they can keep you regularly informed. Ask the teacher if they have a website for you to view assignments, important dates, and lesson materials.
  2. Say hello during pick-up and drop-off.
    If you pick up or drop off your kids at school, have a brief chat with the teacher every so often. Many things can be communicated in just a few minutes and issues resolved. It is great for me to quickly touch base with my students’ parents before the day begins or at the end of the day to inform them of the accomplishments made during class time.

Think of the process of advocating for your child’s education as a three-legged stool. The stool supports us when we need to sit, but it must have all three legs to balance and stand. Those three legs are parental knowledge, involvement, and communication. By practicing those three “legs,” your child can succeed in school, no matter what his or her needs are.

Lynn Samartino, M.A. is an upper inclusion special education teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Chicago Public Schools. In her 10+ years of experience, she has spearheaded after-school programs, developed the Inclusive Model, and managed the integration of new technology into academics.

She holds certifications in general and special education with endorsements in middle school, language arts, social science, and English as a second language (ESL).


We Need to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse

August 25, 2015

By Jessica Vician

We Need to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse | Child Sexual Abuse is a terrifying potential reality. While we don't want to think about it, parents must talk to their children early to help them avoid dangerous situations and know how to tell you if something happened. Read on for how to talk about it. | A young girl sits against the wall with her head in her hands.

Child sexual abuse is something that no parent wants to face. The horror of this potential reality prompts many of us to avoid discussing it with anyone, including our parenting partners, other parents, and especially with our children.

Many of us think, “If I tell my son or daughter how to recognize wrong behavior, I will introduce them to a world of fear and scary things.” While that worry is valid, it’s more important to educate them early on to help prevent it from ever happening.

According to the National Children’s Advocacy Center, parents should talk to their children in early childhood before they might be targeted by an abuser. The NCAC also lists 10 things you can talk to your children about regarding abuse, and what to do when a child tells you about abuse.

To better understand why early conversations about abuse are important, watch this animated video from The Times of India. It illustrates one scenario of how Komal, a 7-year-old girl, deals with sexual abuse and suggests how you can talk to your child about preventing it.

Hopefully you never have a reason to seek this kind of help for your child, but if you do, or if you just need additional information to prepare for your talk, try one of these hotlines and their websites.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Talk to a counselor, learn about the signs of abuse, report abuse, and seek emotional support.

Child Abuse Hotline
This list of child abuse hotlines in each state allows you to locally report abuse or neglect.

It’s a difficult topic to think about, and even more difficult to talk about. As the second half of the video demonstrates, starting the conversation early can help teach your child how to get out of a bad situation and how to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.


How I’ll Raise Feminist Sons

August 20, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

How I’ll Raise Feminist Sons | Just because you don't have a daughter doesn't mean you can't raise a son to be pro-gender equality and a feminist. | A boy pushes a stroller with a doll in it.

A few weeks ago I was at Barnes & Noble looking for a gift for a little girl who had invited my son Bobby to her birthday party. I was walking past one of the display tables in the kids’ section when a book called Rosie Revere, Engineer caught my eye. (For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a book about a girl named Rosie who dreams of becoming an engineer and whose great-great aunt is the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter.) I loved the concept of the book—a female character who is interested in a field that has been traditionally viewed as masculine—and I am a huge fan of Rosie the Riveter. I immediately decided that the book would be a great gift for Bobby’s little friend. For an instant, I sighed and thought about how, as a mother of two sons, I would never be able to buy these types of books and share my passion for girl power and leaning in.

Then I had a thought: By assuming that I could only pass on my beliefs to a daughter, wasn’t I contributing to the problem that made gender equality initiatives necessary? In other words, why couldn’t I raise my boys to be feminists?

The idea that traditional women’s issues—topics such as domestic violence, paid parental leave, and affordable childcare—are men’s issues, too, is a rather recent development. The NO MORE campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault was launched in 2013 (and gained a massive audience with its PSAs featuring NFL players), and the HeForShe movement for gender equality was kicked off in 2014 with actress Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations. Both efforts emphasize the idea that women and men will benefit from gender equality.

With regard to my sons, I know that the younger they are when I begin teaching them about gender equality, the better. I also know that as they get older the lessons are going to get much more complicated than “both boys and girls can wear pink or blue.” I know it’s going to be an uphill battle because stereotypical notions of what it means to be male and female are all over our media culture. Finally, I know that I am going to need my husband's help with the plan because it’s important that our boys see both male and female role-models practicing what we preach.

Fully aware of these obstacles, here are some thoughts on what we as a society can do to raise boys who truly see women as equals:

Avoid gender stereotypes in language use.
So many gender stereotypes have become common expressions in our culture, but they still subtly reinforce the notion that men are stronger than women. For instance, the phrase “throw like a girl” is used to indicate weakness in boys and girls alike, whereas someone who “mans up” is seen as strong and stable. 

Discourage aggressive behavior and encourage a healthy expression of emotion.
The expression “boys will be boys” is often used to justify aggressive behavior in young males. It implies that there is an uncontrollable biological urge behind this behavior, and therefore, that men shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. In addition, men have it drilled into them from boyhood that the expression of any emotion except anger is a form of weakness. However, research has shown that suppressed emotions can make people more aggressive. 

Don’t divide household responsibilities along traditional gender boundaries.
Boys should see Mom (or another female role-model) tackle traditional “male” chores, such as mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, or fixing a leaky toilet. They should witness Dad (or another male role-model) performing traditional “female” chores, such as changing diapers, doing laundry, or loading the dishwasher. Boys should also be expected to perform a wide range of household chores across traditional gender boundaries. 

Be conscious of gender bias when choosing toys and activities.
It’s so easy to subconsciously steer boys away from toys and activities that are considered “feminine”—especially when stores guide us into this way of thinking by categorizing products as appropriate for boys or girls. Kudos to stores like Target, which recently announced that it is eliminating gender-based signage in its toy, bedding, and entertainment departments.

Find teachable moments in our media culture.
Since it’s nearly impossible to get away from it, take advantage of mass media to draw attention to gender roles and how they are portrayed. For instance, lead a discussion about how stereotypes are perpetuated in advertising and on sitcoms. How many commercials for household cleaning products feature women versus men? How many sitcoms portray fathers as incompetent when it comes to taking care of the children?

I have the next 18 years to practice these suggestions as I guide my sons from infancy through adolescence. I hope that in doing so, I raise strong and sensitive men who believe women are their social, political, and economic equals—and that’s what feminism is all about.

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats. 


Build a Strong Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher in 4 Steps

August 18, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Build a Strong Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher in 4 Steps | Beyond the first impression, you need to establish a good ongoing relationship with your child's teacher to demonstrate your respect and dedication to your child's education. Here are four ways to do that. | A mother extends her hand to her child's teacher in a vector image.

Arrive on time. Respect and listen to the teacher. Say please and thank you.

These three simple tips are a great way for your child to make a strong first impression during the first week of school. These tips also help you make a good first impression with your child’s teacher.

Beyond the first impression, you need to establish a good ongoing relationship with your child’s teacher so that they know you respect them and care about your child’s education. It also communicates to your child that you value his or her education and performance. Here are four ways you can start building that relationship.

1. Pick up your child from school one day to introduce yourself.
Introduce yourself to the teacher and communicate that you want to help them by making sure your child is prepared to learn when he or she comes to school in the morning. Letting the teacher know you both want the same thing—for your child to learn and succeed—is a great first step.

2. Provide your contact information and an open invitation to connect.
Yes, the school office already has your contact information, but giving it directly to your child’s teacher with the invitation to reach out if they have any concerns or successes to report shows them that you’re open to talking, you take your child’s education seriously, and you’re an engaged parent.

3. Show your appreciation.
Send thank you notes from you and your child with his or her homework every few months. Let the teacher know that even when you’re not there, you appreciate what they do for your child.

Need more ideas to show appreciation for your child’s teacher? Try these 9 suggestions, courtesy of a teacher.

4. Be respectful and start with the teacher.
If you learn of an issue in the classroom or with your child’s academic performance, talk to the teacher before anyone else. You demonstrate respect by honoring their expertise first and not immediately rushing to the principal.

If you’ve tried this method and you’re not satisfied with the teacher’s response, then let them know that you would like to discuss the situation with their supervisor. Being honest about taking the discussion to someone else maintains transparency and invites the teacher into that conversation to better resolve the issue.

Language Barrier
These are simple ways to establish a good relationship with your child’s teacher, beginning in the fall and continuing throughout the school year. But what happens if you don’t speak the same language as the teacher? You can still make the same efforts, but it will require a little planning on your end to get started.

1. Ask the school to provide a translator.
Ask the school’s translator to be present when you introduce yourself to the teacher and give both the teacher and translator your contact information. Work with the translator to find an effective method for open and, if necessary, frequent communication between you and the teacher through the school’s translator.

2. Find a friend or family member to translate your thank you note.
You can write it in your language at the top of the note and then have your friend write the English translation at the bottom. This way, the teacher sees your writing and your intention, but also understands your message in their language.

Teachers want to build a good relationship with you just as much as you want to build a good relationship with them. Start with these steps and you will notice a difference with both the teacher and the student.

The relationship with your child’s teacher is important, but did you know that your child only spends eight percent of their time at school? Learn how you can support their education the other 92 percent of the time in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, available on Amazon.


Reflect + Reenergize with These Back to School Activities

August 13, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

Reflect + Reenergize with These Back to School Activities | Regroup and gather your thoughts and emotions before the school year starts with your family with these 4 activities. | A girl blows bubbles in the park.

You are on top of your game. You have registered your child for school, taken him or her to the doctor for a yearly physical examination, and shopped for uniforms and school supplies. It’s all done. You’re ready for back to school. So why does it feel like something is missing?

It may be time to regroup and gather your thoughts and emotions in anticipation of another school year. It is also a great time to gather the family to do a few simple yet calming activities to help recharge everyone’s batteries.

1. Blow Bubbles and Make Wishes
Take a blanket or beach towel to the park and a couple of bottles of bubbles. Lie on your back and blow bubbles into the air. Make wishes for the new school year as each bubble flies away toward the horizon. Emphasize to your child that these are more than wishes left to chance, and that he or she really has control over the outcome of what they wished for based on the effort they put in.

2. Create a Sidewalk Masterpiece and Let Go of Summer
With giant sidewalk chalk, create a mural on a sidewalk. Take pictures of the finished design because it will soon wash away in the rain. Use this time to reflect on how the summer has come and gone, too, but that the memories you have will remain. The school year is another opportunity for all new adventures. You can print out a copy later and make a “first day of school” card for your son or daughter. 

3. Play Frisbee and Have Fun
It’s a low-impact and inexpensive sport that does not require much agility or skill, but will have everyone running around, letting go of stress, and giggling.

4. Role-play Teacher and Student to Prepare
You can do this at the kitchen table. This is a great time to role-play situations that may come up at school. For example, mom can play a student who is unruly and distracting, and someone else can play along to see how to remedy the situation.

Do you recommend your son or daughter change seats? Should they tell the teacher? Think of different scenarios than can come up in places like the school cafeteria, hallway, or gym class. 

Prepare for kindergarten, high school, or address new school anxiety.

These are only a few examples of how to spend the last few days of summer winding down and revving up for the school year ahead. Each family is different, so you may want to think of fun, simple games and activities you did as a child and make those part of your back-to-school tradition each year. A quick pause from the busyness of it all will give your son or daughter time to reflect and refuel for their demanding schoolwork and extra-curricular activities ahead.

Having an impact on your son or daughter does not have to cost tons of money, nor does it take much time. You will appreciate the sweet memories you are making when they have outgrown their desire to hang out with you on a lazy afternoon. 

Need more suggestions on preparing your family for the school year? The YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books provide activities and checklists to help.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

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