Beyond the IEP Team: 6 Tips for Parent Participation at School
Parent Participation at School
When you have a child with a disability, you’re often very involved with his education. You spend time on the phone with teachers, you’re an active participant in the IEP process and you support your child’s learning at home.
But it can be easy to feel isolated when it seems like all your participation at school is centered on your child’s needs. So how can you get involved with the school and other parents without feeling as if you’re getting in the way of your child’s day-to-day education? Here are six ways to start.
1. Join the Parent-Teacher Association.
Most schools have a PTA or PTO that meets at least once a month. And they’re often at the helm of planning events for the school. In joining the PTA, you not only have the opportunity to meet new people and know what’s going on in the whole school, you also have a great opportunity to advocate for kids with special needs.
You may know what accommodations need to be in place at a school dance or book fair to make sure all kids are included, but if it’s not the experience of the rest of the PTA parents, they may not. You can make sure that the needs of kids with disabilities are part of the conversation.
2. Go to school board meetings.
While it’s true that school board meetings may not be the most interesting way to spend an evening, they’re open to the public for a reason. The school board talks about issues that affect students, including your child. Keep an eye on the issues that are coming up for vote or discussion—even at budget meetings it can help to have a representative voice of a parent of a child in special education. Better yet, gather a group of like-minded parents to go with you. It brings a bigger voice to the meeting and gives you an opportunity to get to know parents who understand your circumstances.
3. Offer up some behind-the scenes time.
For some kids, having a parent volunteer in the classroom is more disruptive than helpful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still volunteer. Many schools are happy to have parent volunteers to help in the office or work in the library.
And teachers frequently need parents to help behind the scenes with things like photocopying, preparing materials for projects or maybe even writing a class newsletter. Ask your child’s teacher if there’s anything you can do to make her job easier so she can focus on teaching while she’s in the classroom.
4. Offer up your talents.
You might not have time to offer, but you most likely have talent! Your talent and skills can come in handy. For example, if you have a way with gardening, think about offering to plant a classroom garden and help kids learn how to take care of it. If you’re artistic, maybe you can help create bulletin boards or artwork displays across the school. And don’t underestimate the importance of being handy. There are always bookshelves or other classroom items that need to be built or fixed.
5. Organize or help with an afterschool club.
There are often more interests to explore than there are faculty advisors to help kids explore them. What is your child passionate about? More than likely, other kids are interested in the same thing.
You can start a club at the school (or if that isn’t an option, check with the public library or community center). Or, find an existing club and offer to work as an assistant leader. It’s a great way for both you and your child to participate and gain a sense of community belonging.
6. Attend school events.
Not all parents have time to volunteer during the day or afterschool—and that’s OK. If you’re not able to do those things, you can participate simply by bringing your child to the school play, math night or the ice cream social. It gives you all the chance to participate in the school community in a casual way.
Amanda Morin, is an early intervention specialist, education writer, special education advocate and mother of two children with special needs. Her latest book, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, aims to demystify the special education process and empower parents.
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2015 Magazine