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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).


9 Ways to Show Your Teacher Appreciation

May 5, 2015

By Maureen Powers

9 Ways to Show Your Teacher Appreciation | National Teacher Day May 5 | National Teacher Appreciation Week May 4-8 | #ThankATeacher

Children in the U.S. spend an average of 900 hours in school each year. That is a lot of time! Teachers play such a huge role in our children’s lives that special teacher appreciation days are scheduled around the globe to recognize them. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States and today we celebrate National Teacher Day.

The National Education Association describes National Teacher Day as "a day for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives." Think about all the special things your own child’s teacher has done this year.

How can you show that special teacher how much you appreciate what he or she does for your child without spending a lot of money?

  • Give a special handwritten note of appreciation from you or your child
  • Gift a picture of your child and the teacher in a pretty frame 
  • Donate your time to cut out projects or copy papers
  • Gift coupons the teacher can cash in for help in the classroom, especially at the end of the year
  • Make homemade cards 
  • Ask your child to give the teacher hugs throughout the week
  • Gift drawings and other artwork created by your child
  • Donate books for the classroom
  • Share a small token of appreciation for every day of the week

What else can you do? Visit the National Education Association website to meet the 2015 Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, to download celebration artwork and videos for special events, and even applaud your favorite teacher on social media for a chance to win $100!

If you are feeling crafty, check out Pinterest for creative ways to show you care.

Whatever you decide to do, take a moment to let the special teacher in your life know how much you appreciate his or her hard work.

Looking for activities that will help your child grow to his or her potential? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Why Testing Matters to Your Child’s Education

April 14, 2015

By Maureen Powers

Why Testing Matters to Your Child’s Education | Standardized tests aren't just an annoyance to parents, students, and teachers-- they're critical for state funding. Learn why these tests matter for your child's education. | A student fills in the multiple choice circles with a pencil on a test.

It’s spring and your child’s school is gearing up for standardized state assessments. Children are stressed, teachers are tense, and everyone just wants to get through testing season. Is all this anxiety necessary? Yes! Schools and teachers have a lot to lose if standardized assessments are not taken seriously.

By law, every state in the U.S. must administer state achievement tests to measure what students know and are able to do. The operating budgets in many school districts are often determined by the results of student growth on state standardized assessments. Many public schools have adopted performance pay, which gives teachers additional money if their students score well. In short, more money in schools means your children will be more likely to receive a better education.

Now that you know why these tests are so important to your child’s overall education, what can you do to help?

  • Make sure your child is in attendance all days of testing. Many schools are penalized for poor student attendance, which will affect funding.
  • Encourage your child to do his or her best and express your confidence in him or her. Anxiety and fear of failure can affect test performance.
  • With your child, explore the test questions for the standardized assessment in your state well in advance of the test. Cramming is not a good strategy, as these tests measure knowledge gained over time, not simple facts.
  • The assessment results are often available only after school is out for summer vacation. Make an appointment to speak with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the new school year to go over the results of the standardized assessments so you know your student’s strengths and opportunities for improvement and you are in a better position to advocate for him or her.
  • Visit the US Department of Education website for additional ways to help your child succeed.

By knowing why these standardized tests matter and how they can impact your child’s education, you can hopefully use these tips to help your child study and perform to the best of his or her ability.

Want more tips on preparing your child for academic success? Our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books help parents from birth through high school graduation and beyond. Now available on Amazon


Speak Up and Get Involved on Cesar Chavez Day

March 31, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Speak Up and Get Involved on Cesar Chavez Day | Speak Up! Get Involved! | On Cesar Chavez Day, we honor his life and spirit through community service. Today, we encourage you to channel that passion into advocating for your child's well-being and education.

Today is Cesar Chavez Day, when we not only celebrate the labor movement and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, but also honor his life and spirit through community service.

The mission of YOU Parent is to provide community support for child success. By empowering other parents to speak up and get involved in their children’s education, we all provide a better future for our children, the community, and society as a whole. Use this day as inspiration to make a difference in your community starting with your own child and then by inspiring other parents to do the same.

Get Involved
How can you get involved in your child’s education? It starts with understanding a child’s four needs for success: physical health, emotional well-being, social well-being, and academic achievement. When these needs are met, the child can become a better student, receive a better education, and therefore lead a fulfilling and successful life.

Success for every child involves a wheel of nurturing: academic achievement, physical health, social and emotional well-being

Get involved in these areas of your child’s life. If you cater to these needs, your child will be better able to pay attention in school and will arrive to class ready to learn.

  • Make sure he or she is eating well and getting enough exercise. 
  • Tell your child you love him or her and give lots of hugs. 
  • Watch your child play with his or her friends—does your child show others respect and enjoy the social time? 
  • Ask your child to go through homework with you and let him or her teach you the lesson to encourage academic success.

Speak Up
Of course, you can’t do it alone. If you’re taking care of your child’s needs at home, you still need to ensure he or she is getting a good education at school. Speak up and advocate for your child’s education—it will not only benefit your child, but the other students at the school as well.

  • Stay in regular contact with your child’s teacher and attend parent-teacher conferences.
  • Volunteer for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) or another parent organization at your child’s school and influence school policies that will benefit the students. 
  • Ask the school principal for parent engagement programs, like the YOU Program, that teach parents how to meet their children’s needs and teach educators how to better work with parents to boost student achievement. 
  • Bring parent engagement programs and knowledge to local community organizations and help educate other parents on the need to be present and involved in their children’s lives. 
  • Ask other parents for help when you need it. Can’t pick up your child from school? Ask a classmate’s parent and reciprocate later. By seeking help from and giving it to other parents, you’re building a stronger parent community for the kids in your neighborhood.

Cesar Chavez spoke up for what he believed in and rallied for change for the betterment of individuals and society. We believe that every child should have access to a strong support network so that he or she can succeed in life and give back. You can provide that support and inspire others to do the same. Speak up and get involved today to make a difference tomorrow.

Learn more about how strong parent engagement can help your child succeed in school and in life in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 


Find + Adapt to Your Child’s Learning Style

March 11, 2015

By Lorena Villa Parkman

Find + Adapt to Your Child’s Learning Style | No matter how bright, creative, or hard-working your child is, he or she may need a little help in school. An easy way you can help is to understand how he or she learns. | The image shows children smiling as they use magnifying glasses to look closely at small objects.

No matter how bright, creative, or hard-working your child is, sometimes he or she will still need a little help in school. One easy way that you can help is to understand how he or she learns.

Figuring out your child’s learning style can make his or her education a better experience. Each child has a different way of learning, so when parents know their child's best way to learn, they can help him or her more effectively with homework, tests, and overall academic tasks.

Test your child
Try these online resources to help determine your child’s learning style:

Study tips for each learning style
Once you figure out your child’s preferred style, you can create a study plan to help him or her understand concepts better.

  • School Family has homework and study tips for auditory learners (those who learn best from spoken words), kinesthetic learners (those who learn best while being active), and visual learners (those who learn best from seeing information written or illustrated).
  • About has learning suggestions for each style and lists the worst types of tests for each learner.
  • Indiana University’s Bepko Learning Center lists helpful tips for each of the aforementioned learning styles.

Include your child’s counselor or teacher
Share your child’s learning style with his or her teacher. While the teacher won’t always be able to accommodate each child’s learning style, it’s helpful information that may be useful when assigning homework or tests.

Remember that information and engagement is the key to successful education. Knowing your child’s learning strengths before you begin a study or educational strategy is important for his or her progress.

Learn more about how strong parent engagement can help your child succeed in school and in life in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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