Cheryl Grant has been working with parents of students with developmental disabilities since 2008 when she became a Parent Mentor in Decatur City Schools. Primarily connecting parents with resources in the school and the community, Cheryl also provides parent training on topics about disabilities. The Parent Mentor position was created through Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership, a program supported by the Georgia Department of Education Division for Special Education Services and Support and tasked with the creation of Parent Mentor positions, whose mission is “to build effective family, school, and community partnerships that lead to greater achievement for students, especially those with disabilities.”
Becoming involved as a Parent Mentor was natural as Cheryl was a parent of a child with a developmental disability—a key requirement to become a Parent Mentor. “The main thing you need to have in this position is a child with a disability of any age, living or deceased,” said Cheryl, “and that’s very strategic. As a parent, they are able to speak from a place of knowledge, empathy, and power.”
As a Parent Mentor, Cheryl has a wealth of knowledge and expertise that she shares with other parents. Here are a few tips to consider in the upcoming year.
What an IEP is and is not.
Completing the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process is an important piece to ensuring your child receives the best education available. “A student’s IEP is a springboard to help the school and the parents guide the child to more autonomy and to work on skills,” says Cheryl. Recognizing the value of IEPs, but also the reality that parents must manage their expectations, Cheryl often reflects on a quote from friend and fellow expert in the field Jackie McNair: “People need to understand that the IEP is not going to heal their child.”
Organize and save documentation.
Throughout your child’s school career, you will complete a lot of paperwork. Cheryl suggests investing in cloud-based storage (like DropBox) to scan and save documents. This includes your child’s IEPs, student work samples that track progress, and initial eligibility/diagnosis that marks the school’s acknowledgment of the disability. “The initial eligibility is key to accessing support services should [your child] need them when they are older,” said Cheryl.
Communication is key.
Keep communication open with the school district. “This sounds cliché, but it’s highly important,” said Cheryl. This is often easier to do when students are younger, but it’s important to maintain an open line of communication throughout your child’s school career.
Trusts aren’t just for the rich.
“Get your business in order, get your will together, and seek out special needs trusts,” says Cheryl. “I suggest doing these one at a time because it can seem like a lot.” Ensuring the best education possible is critical, but so are considerations for life after graduation. Like many parents of children with developmental disabilities, Cheryl has concerns about homelessness and institutionalization for her child, reflecting, “if I haven’t handled things on my end, it ruins his chances of having access to different supports in the community.”
Life after graduation.
Considering your child’s life after they’ve graduated is incredibly important. Georgia has eight universities that offer inclusive college, also called inclusive post secondary education (IPSE). There are also many certificate programs for people to learn trades through organizations like Goodwill Industries. Allowing your child to explore their interests and find a rewarding career reinforces their agency.
Did You Know?
Parent Mentors are present in over 90 school districts in Georgia. You can find your school district’s Parent Mentor at www.ParentMentors.org.