Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Become your child's educational advocate

by Malina

Somehow August arrived faster than I expected and it is already back to school time. Some schools started this week (AZ) already! With the start of the school year, it is an excellent time to discuss becoming your child's educational advocate.


My example for what an educational advocate does is my mother. I have so many memories of her telling me what had to change for me or for one of my siblings in school. She would make it happen too. I remember that one of my sisters tested average one year on the exam the school used to determine who would be placed in the gifted classes. Other years she had tested extremely high. In addition, she was consistently completing all her classwork quickly and easily. She was not being challenged at all. Yet based on that one test score, the school was not going to put her in the gifted program. Then my mom got involved. She called and bugged them and argued her case that perhaps my sister had just not taken the test seriously. She got her in the gifted program. My sister thrived despite the school experts' dire warnings.

What is an educational advocate? An educational advocate is actually a career position for many people now. These individuals specialize in knowing the laws for special needs and disabilities. They know all the services a school can provide and work often in a mediation role between parents and the school system to help make sure the needs of children are met by the schools. (http://www.healthcentral.com/adhd/c/1443/54835/educational-advocate)

While this is something that many parents may need, it is not quite the meaning I am intending. As the parent, you know your child best, and often know what they need best. Every child needs their parents to be their educational advocates. Here is what I mean by being an advocate for your child in their education:

  • Be Actively Involved - As much as you are able, participate in PTA, volunteer in the classroom, communicate regularly with your child's teacher about their work and how they are doing. Show up to every school play, parent night, etc. Volunteer for field trips!
  • Discuss school with your child - Help with their homework, find out who their friends and enemies are, find out if they are bored or fascinated with a topic at school. By being actively involved in school activities, you can have more to discuss with your child. Know their feelings about school, about the teacher, about their classes. 
  • Believe in your child - Believe in their ability to do things and let them know you believe in them. Believe them when they tell you the teacher yelled at them, or that the teacher is unfairly singling them out. Make sure they know you are on their side and "have their back". You are the adult and can be diplomatic in discussions with principals and teachers about problem situations.
  • Fight for your child - Not with your fists, but with your logic and diplomatic skills. My mom recently had to write a research paper to prove to a school district that what she wanted done with my brother was the best course of action. It was a huge battle, but she had done her research and knew it was what he needed. She has never assumed that the school knows best for the individual child. That is the role of the parent. Incidentally, he is now thriving after repeating sixth grade, not for academic reasons, but for social.
  • Be informed - Know the school policies and state laws. Schools may only offer full day kindergarten, but if you feel your child would do best with half day, you can make it happen. My mom did. Kindergarten is not mandatory schooling age. All the laws are online. You can find out if what they are telling you is true or if it is just a policy they don't want to change. Use your knowledge and make things happen for the benefit of your child.
Parents who are advocates for their children educationally make sure their child's needs are met by the school system. They don't passively trust the schools to get it right but make sure things happen. It isn't an easy road and the first time you ask to change something, you will probably be turned down. They will have their statistics and reasons. But if you know that things need to change, keep at it. You know best what your child needs and you can make it happen.

Perhaps you think my mom sounds like a pain. I'm sure the school district thought she was. I however, admire her for her tenacity and strength in sticking to what she knew was best for her children. I personally have chosen to advocate for my children's education by educating them at home, but that's a completely different topic.

What are your thoughts on being an advocate for your child in their education?

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