Updated: Jul 6
by Leah Kirkpatrick
The world of special education can be challenging and overwhelming for parents, especially when the parents need to advocate for their children's unique educational
needs. A resource available to parents that is not always explicitly known is the special education parent mentor. These dedicated individuals, often parents themselves with children with special needs, have personal experience in raising children with disabilities. They can offer guidance, support, and empowerment to families as they navigate the special education process. One of their many roles is to ensure that families are equipped to navigate the complex landscape of special education. Special education parent mentors help to foster collaboration between parents and educators, aide in promoting and advocating for an inclusive education, and, in the end, empower families to advocate effectively for their own children's rights moving forward.
What is a Special Education Parent Mentor? A special education parent mentor is often an individual who has firsthand experience in navigating the special education process. This often involves advocating for their own child with special needs and as a result, is willing to support and mentor other parents going through a similar process. They possess a wealth of knowledge about special education laws, policies, services, and resources that are imperative to other families going through this process themselves. The goal is that by sharing their experiences and expertise, they help to empower and guide families through the often overwhelming process of understanding and accessing special education services in their child’s school district. Additionally, oftentimes special education parent mentors have a valuable and collaborative relationship with the school district’s special education team. This helps both the family and the district to provide a fluid and cohesive process to getting a student the services that they need while ensuring the families fully understand the special education system.
Empowering Families Going through the process of getting or monitoring your child’s special education services can be very overwhelming. The special education parent mentor role helps to provide a sense of reassurance and comfort to families who may be feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about their child's educational needs. Through sharing their own experiences, these mentors' goal is to provide hope and help the families to see that their child’s success is achievable. Special education mentors help to offer emotional support, active listening, and validation of the family's concerns and frustrations through this process Another imperative role the special education parent mentors play is to help educate families about their rights and the available services and resources. They help parents understand the navigate the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, understand assessment results from school based evaluations, and effectively communicate with educators and administrators in the school system. They educate parents about their legal rights and responsibilities, ensuring they are well-informed about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other relevant legislationThis in turn, helps the families to more efficiently advocate for their children and ensure they are receiving the appropriate support and accommodations needed for their child’s educational success.
Promoting Collaboration While navigating the special education process emotions and frustrations may rise high. The collaboration between parents and educators is vital to create an inclusive educational environment that is nurturing for both families and the school. The special education parent mentors help to aid this process by serving as liaisons between families and schools. They help parents effectively communicate their goals, concerns, and expectations to educators and administrators. This service helps to foster a positive and open dialogue between families and the school district resulting in both students and teachers receiving the best possible support. Special education mentors also help families to understand their own child’s unique needs and strengths in relation to their disabilities. By sharing their personal experiences, they provide a deeper understanding of the challenges and potential that these children and their families face. Providing this deeper understanding and collaboration between parents and educators enables the district and families to work together in designing effective strategies, accommodations, and modifications that best support the child's academic and social development.
The Exceptional Children’s Advocacy Group through Reaching Heights provides support and mentoring to families within the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District.
Joy Howard, parent mentor, provides the following supports:
-Support for families to answer questions and concerns about the special education process via in-person meetings, by email or over the phone
-Guidance and information about the CH-UH special education program
-Preparation, support and guidance for IEP meetings
-Resources relating to special education within and around the CH-UH community
-Host and promote community engagement events, workshops and special events
For more information regarding parent mentor support at the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district please contact Joy Howard by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (216) 236-3616.