I have been involved in the advocacy world since 2000 when I realized that I wanted to transmit the message of parent involvement in the special education process to other parents. It became clear to me that I had to become an expert in my daughters’ different ways of learning and I had to get immersed in knowing and understanding the special education laws.
Many studies have shown that parent involvement is a major contributing factor to the success of school outcomes. And it is not only children with special needs who benefit from their parents’ involvement in their education. It is all children. But this is even more evident when in the family the primary language is not English and there are different sets of expectations. Many non-English-speaking families face, in addition to the language barriers, other issues like poverty and cultural differences, and for them to become more involved can be very difficult.
Parent involvement can be interpreted in many different ways. Traditionally, it meant to attend every meeting, conference, function, etc. parents were invited to. Parent involvement in the 21st century means much more than that. Parents today need to understand that they have a much more participative role in their children’s education. Parents are taking leadership roles in the school environment. All over the country parent groups are getting more organized as advisory councils, to identify systemic issues in the school district and to provide ideas and suggestions to solve those issues.
I have been working at SPAN, New Jersey’s Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, since 2003, as a Parent Group Specialist, helping to develop and support Parent Groups in the area of special education. I am also part of the New Jersey Statewide Parent to Parent group, covering the northeast of the state. This has been a very positive experience for me and I’ve enjoyed helping other parents feel more confident in taking on an expanded parent advocacy role.
I encourage you to learn more about ways to become a parent leader in your school community by visiting theTechnical Assistance Alliance of Parent Centers’ Web site to find the nearest location in your state.
Myriam Alizo has been working with the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network in New Jersey since 2003 as a Parent Group Specialist. She has helped develop and support parent groups in the area of special education throughout Northern New Jersey.