Positive ways to advocate for your child in school

  • Susan Kelley Delaine
  • Parenting
  • Oct 28, 2010

Children experience so many changes from kindergarten to college. Social groups, teachers and interests will come and go, but parents are the one constant along the way. Hence, it is our sole responsibility to superintend our own children’s education- not that of the school system, tutors or outside care providers.

Invariably, opportunities to advocate for your child will arise in school. For example, what should you do if you want to change teachers? What if you think your child has a learning challenge? Who should you approach if you suspect unfair treatment? I’ve spoken with a few Fayette area residents who have professional experience in school systems. These valuable pointers will help answer such questions and can be used by parents of all children- from elementary school, middle school, to high school.

• Start off the school year by building a good relationship with your child’s teacher. Introduce yourself early. Don’t wait for a problem to arise. In the long run, both you and teacher will feel more relaxed if you’ve already become acquainted. Also, the fact that you’ve taken time to introduce yourself is an indication that you are interested in your child’s success.

• If you feel your child has been improperly placed and you’d like to change teachers, take some time to gather concrete information to show why a move is necessary. A solid case for changing classrooms would be that your student’s learning style does not match the teacher’s methods. Spend a few weeks collecting class work samples and visit the classroom to observe the teacher and your child.

• If you suspect your child has been unfairly treated by the teacher, it is best to first speak with the teacher about it and to document the conversations either through email follow- up or certified mail. Give the teacher a chance to explain the situation and be clear about what changes or results you’d like to see. Unless you’re suspicious of foul play, it is only fair to first approach the teacher directly to discuss a problem.

• If you think your child has a learning challenge, there is a specific, mandated system that you can use to have your child evaluated. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for free educational assessment and recommendations on academic placement for your child. While the school system will not diagnose your child, the assessment will identify specific challenges that your child may have and match them to available assistance. For more information about IDEA, visit http://idea.ed.gov/

• Children with medical conditions (such as food allergies) have accommodations that are guaranteed to them through Section 504, a civil rights law. “Food allergies are serious and widespread, and the growing number of children suffering from them must be able to remain safe at school. The Section 504 Plan can help achieve that,” says Sharissa Greer, Fayette area cookbook author and founder of Allergyfreemom.com. Any school or facility participating in federal programs like The National School Lunch Program must provide each child equal access and participation in such programs. When packing a lunch for your child is not an option, you can initiate this by having your physician write a letter regarding food restrictions.” For more information about Section 504 visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html

• So, 18th century literature isn’t your child’s strong suit? Focus on your child’s strengths and interests. Use them to help him or her learn. Be creative when helping your child with a new concept. Use hands on methods for math, select books in subjects that interest your child to help strengthen reading comprehension and use patterns and rhythm in new lessons. In the case of older children, an adult mentor may be the key to their success. Many older children blossom under the direction of positive adult role models.

• Joan Chapman Randers, 11Alive News Class Act Teacher and Tyrone Elementary School Kindergarten teacher says, “Become a clear and concise communicator. When questions arise about paperwork in your child’s folder, or something that has happened during the school day, try making an outline before calling or using a bulleted list in emails. This will yield a quicker response, especially if you want an answer immediately after school. “

• Ultimately, the most important thing is for your child to have solid self esteem and a sense of responsibility. As parents, we have our children’s best interest at heart and we voice our concerns and desires for them. However, remember that children are people too and they need their own voice. According to Debra Woodard, local mom and author of “Iamit,” a self-esteem children’s book, children need their own space in which to safely voice their feelings about school, friends and experiences. Provide them with a journal, give space for creative expression and discuss their feelings about school.

Remember, your role as a parent advocate is to ensure a fulfilling and fun experience for your child. No one understands your child more thoroughly than you. Whenever possible, try to include him or her in your decision making process. Along the way, always keep in mind the bigger picture and aim for your child’s long term success. Most importantly, enjoy your children today. These years sure fly by fast!

October 28, 2010