Positives from the 2020-2021 school year

The BIG positive message from the 2020-2021 school year is persistence pays off! I worked with many families who were persistent (and somewhat relentless) in getting their children help. Some had documented requests dating back 7 years! I am excited to tell these success stories and to demonstrate how advocates, families, and schools can work together.

First, I want to focus on the families who have children with Dyslexia. Some needed full advocacy support, while others only needed some basic training. Either way, the work was worth it! These students were tested in elementary school and they did not qualify. (Scores were not low enough, achievement was not low enough, but the parents also learned they were not specific enough.) These three families learned the importance of being specific when you suspect your child has a learning disability. Detail, in writing, exactly what you see at home and school. They gave concrete examples and some even submitted audio/video recordings of their children reading. This kind of evidence makes a difference! They also had the advantage of working with awesome school teams. School psychologists, administrators, and teachers who really listened and were there to help. I was profoundly grateful to come along side these families to coach, advocate, and support them through the process. All three qualified for IEP’s. This is a huge celebration because now they have extra-help available to them through different classes, specialized instruction with an Orton Gillingham approved program, assistance from paraprofessionals, technology tools, and other accommodations that will help them unlock their potential. I am so excited to see what their future holds!

Some of the families I had the opportunity to assist were looking for basic guidance. They knew they could handle the meeting, but wanted to be fully informed about the IEP/504 process. I love doing this! We had a few zoom meetings where I explained everything about 504’s and IEP’s. I also gave them a list of questions to ask specific to the needs of their child and important steps to follow. They did beautifully and obtained appropriate services for their children! This made me take a second look at the power of coaching and the need to EMPOWER parents. Look for more of this strategy in the future.

Next, I had the opportunity to help two children transfer to buildings where there were more resources and staff trained in their specific area of disability. These two situations were urgent and filled with emotion. I was honored to be the one to calm the waters, remind the families to stay logical and give as much evidence as possible to help the powers that be make the decision we were requesting. In the end, they were transferred, and it all worked out for the better. These kids are thriving!

Unfortunately, advocacy does not always go smoothly. I did help one family this year, who were in a particularly stressful and difficult situation. It involved the awful practice of seclusion and restraint. Without disclosing too many details, we knew the school was not prepared or trained to offer the proper supports and interventions for their child. We advocated for 6 months and were successful in all our requests with the help of an attorney. This family not only prevailed for their child but for all other differently abled children. (There is far more to this case but for the privacy of all involved I am trying to be as vague as possible.) I am relieved to report the child is doing well and I look forward to checking in on them in the future. With their new plan, I am sure I will hear about all the wonderful things they are accomplishing.

Finally, my last update is about three young people all poised to leave high school. The families knew they were just not ready to take on the real-world, so our advocacy efforts were spent on preparing for the future. One of these young people is in an amazing program for the next two years where they will receive on the job training, soft-skills, and practice independent living. They even got to start this summer doing some job shadowing and participating in a transition group. The other two are also practicing soft-skills and life-skills within the school setting. Both are getting ready to take their driver’s exams and have their first summer jobs. I cannot imagine where these three would be without these amazing learning opportunities and the advocacy efforts their parents committed to on their behalf. These students are even learning the important skill of self-advocacy! I am proud of them!

In the end, when I reflect on my role in all this change, I realized my task was simple. I helped families shape, verbalize, a document their concerns, requests, and insights about their child. They were the ones who did it all! I just offered guidance and support. I am completely humbled to be a small part of their journey. Across the State of South Dakota, parents are learning about their rights and how to obtain reasonable/appropriate services for their child. I can hear those winds of change building!
Call me to talk about how we can shift these winds your way! 605-431-3318

*Disclaimer: this post contains information about cases that took place in various districts across the State of South Dakota and across multiple grade levels. No specific district is mentioned nor should be inferred from any of the information listed above.

Honesty is the best policy…

As I spend the first few weeks of summer recharging, refocusing, and renewing I am spending a great deal of time reflecting on the school year. You know what? It was NOT easy and processing all I learned an experienced is not easy either. I am struggling sorting through the emotional labor that was this school year. From Covid restrictions, ridiculous decisions made by bureaucrats, and the amount of negativity that filled meetings, it is hard to focus on the positives. (So, bear with me if this post veers off the positivity track for a moment.) The only word that keeps coming to my mind is: challenging. This year was challenging. The start of the school year was filled with unknowns, delays, and massive implications from Covid. I urged everyone to use grace with each other because parents and staff alike were getting frustrated. Then school went back into session, and we had kids coping with the transition between online and face to face learning. It seemed like there were races to hold meetings and evaluate kids. Children were being categorized as “not low enough”, there were staff and funding shortages, and suddenly we went from feeling frustrated to feeling angry and overwhelmed. We just kept facing one challenging situation after another.

Personally, I had all this amazing training from ISEA I was excited to put into practice. I was excited to work with teams and make a difference in the life of a child. However, I found it challenging (There’s that word again!) to balance all I knew, all the love for kids I had in my heart, and my deep-rooted desire to be helpful with using this new information wisely. I never wanted it to be a weapon; or even perceived as one. Working on changing that perception was challenging. (Again, the word of the year.) I would do my best to build relationships, be kind, and be complimentary but the truth was sometimes what I said was not popular. Sometimes what I had to say was hard to hear.

Many of the families I helped this year had children who were falling severely behind, and a sense of urgency could be felt all around. They had children who were not getting the help they needed. They had children who had learning disabilities but were not being serviced. They had children whose mental health was quickly moving beyond “at-risk”. There were threats of suicide, seclusion and restraint being used when unnecessary, children who clearly could not read but still being passed along, accommodations being refused, and parent requests being ignored. These families and children needed help. Most of them, that I had the honor of advising, were successful through advocacy. They documented, they gathered data, the asked questions, they shared concerns in writing, and opened the lines of communication. We did all of this in a kind, honest, and professional manner. However, some still saw no results. Some will need to come back again next school year with more data, more evidence, and document requests in writing again. Because sometimes it takes that level of persistence to make a change. As I move forward through thoughts, plans, and establishing some resolve I will make it a point to post about my successes. If you are a family who is in this same mental state, let’s focus on the good together. Call me to vent, to process, or simply ask a question. Let’s use the summer to refocus and remind ourselves why we do such challenging work. In the meantime, stay tuned to my Facebook page for updates and all the good that is happening. We had some HUGE successes this year I cannot wait to talk about! I hope it fills your cup! 605-431-3318 inspire1learning@gmail.com inspire1learning.com