How to advocate for children at school

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Schools are an important cornerstone of children’s development, both academically and socially. And whether students are part of the general education curriculum or requires accommodations for physical or developmental challenges, their parents are their staunchest advocates for their success in the classroom.

Parents can represent their children in the educational climate more effectively if they understand how schools operate. As with any official government or municipal organization, there are policies and regulations in place. Parents who can navigate effectively will have the greater chance of having their voices heard.

¥ Develop a positive image in the school. Parents can ingratiate themselves to school personnel in various ways. This includes participation in parent-teacher organizations, volunteering for school-led activities and taking time to get to know all staff, including office secretaries, paraprofessionals and student teachers. Consider chairing an activity, like Box Tops for education collection or a scouting troop. Being a positive presence on campus will set the tone for how others view you.

¥ Educate yourself on policies. Read up on the issues you support. If your child has a particular learning disability, research it and the tools that have helped other students in similar situations achieve success.

Attend workshops and investigate what your school district offers by way of individualized education modifications so you can present a well-researched argument. In addition, if necessary, learn about children’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

¥ Stay organized. Keep a folder of test scores, homework assignments, report cards, and other pertinent documents in one place so you can document and track your child’s progress and performance.

¥ Be positive, calm and firm. The advocacy organization Understood says parents can learn strategies and phrases to redirect conversations and defuse tense situations. Parents are an equal member of the education team. Be receptive to staff ideas, but don’t feel pressured to agree with them all.

¥ Communicate regularly. The notion that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is largely true. Speak with teachers, therapists and the principal as necessary to ensure that lines of communication are kept open at all times. Continue to do so with tact and decorum. Remember to follow hierarchy protocol, first speaking with a teacher directly instead of going straight to an administrator.

Parents are their children’s first and most avid advocates. They can help ensure students get the education they deserve.

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