November 2020 Issue
SPAN Parent Leadership E-News
Dear Parent Leaders,

This quarterly newsletter is designed to empower, engage, and support individuals like you who passionately represent the needs and perspectives of all parents. Parent leaders become role models for family engagement, advocating not only on behalf of their own children, but for ALL children!

By definition, collaboration is a process of working in partnership for the benefit of a shared goal, project, or mission. It is well known that collaborative partnerships between parents, school districts and communities have the power to challenge prejudices, honor unique assets and contributions of their members, co-create systems that support school improvement, and take action together to advocate for lasting change.

To achieve common goals, collaborations require ongoing commitment and willingness of their members to be vulnerable and to re-examine individual perceptions about equity, shared leadership, and the role of families in decision-making. More importantly, mutual trust and strengthening relationships form the basis for authentic engagement and sustainable collaborations between families, school districts and communities. Together we can accomplish so much more, together we can make a difference!

~ With Gratitude, START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project Team
Literacy Strategies for Families through COVID-19 and Beyond
Literacy Strategies for Families facilitates partnerships between families and schools by creating and supporting groups that include school staff and families who are interested in improving outcomes for students in literacy. 

What we will do:

  • Facilitate completion of an initial self-assessment. This initial self-assessment data will be compiled and will be used to identify indicator areas to prioritize for support and for action planning.
  • Help school teams design activities, plan outreach strategies, and mobilize community resources (libraries, colleges, business community, etc.).
  • Facilitate the planning and implementation of literacy events for families to learn about ways that they can support learning at home.
  • We will be able to offer live, remote group discussions as well as asynchronous short videos focused on:
-- Strategies to make shared reading at home fun for all
-- Building key literacy skills like phonemic awareness, reading fluency, and comprehension
-- Motivating disengaged readers
-- Understanding school expectations, assignments and assessments,
and resources
  • We offer these school teams a non-competitive grant to facilitate implementation of the team action plan.

Our support will be focused on strategies that are appropriate for all families whose children attend the school, including both students who receive general education support and those identified for special education supports. The plans will be flexible and adaptable to best support culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse families and learners of all ability levels. 

To receive support in your school or district, contact Debbie Esposito, Literacy Coordinator, by phone (201) 873-6473 or email desposito@spanadvocacy.org

A BRAND NEW TOOL for
Your Leadership Toolbox
Quick Guide "Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) Engage Families to Support Learning for ALL Students"
SEPAGs serve as models for building the knowledge, skills, and confidence of parents seeking to get involved in their schools and facilitating deeper connections between families and schools. A local SEPAG gives parents the opportunity to provide direct input to their school district about policies, programs, practices, and services that have an impact on students with disabilities and their families. Its model also sets an example for family-school engagement that supports learning for ALL students. 

Here are some ideas for building strong and effective partnerships that can impact overall student outcomes. Download this quick guide in English and Spanish
***
All ten of our Quick Guides are available in English and Spanish. To view and download them ALL, go to spanadvocacy.org/programs/start/groups/

***
Do you have a suggestion for a topic for the next Quick Guide?
Please drop us a line! Email your suggestions to Tatsiana DaGrosa, START-EPSD Project Co-Director, at tdagrosa@spanadvocacy.org
Parent Group Highlights
Bridgeton School District SEPAG
On August 20, 2020 a group of parent members of the Bridgeton Public Schools Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) gathered for a social distanced in-person SEPAG meeting to discuss the district’s re-opening plans and to meet a new Superintendent, Dr. Keith Miles.

At this meeting, parents of children and youth receiving special education and related services represented a diverse spectrum of grade levels, special education programs and services, as well as cultural and linguistic diversity of the community. Dr. Eniola Ajayi, Director of Special Education and Student Support Services, members of the Child Study Team, District Compliance Specialist, and an interpreter also joined the SEPAG meeting to facilitate the discussion, answer questions, and receive input from parents on the needs of students and their experiences with special education in remote learning. Parents had the opportunity to meet and network with other parents as well as with Tatsiana DaGrosa, a Parent Groups Specialist on the START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project at SPAN. It was a first SEPAG meeting where parents and district staff met face-to-face since COVID-19 shut down the schools in March. 

The Bridgeton SEPAG was initiated six years ago by Dr. Eniola Ajayi who became a new Director of Special Education in 2014. Dr. Ajayi attended the “Starting and Running an Effective SEPAG” training presented by SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and connected with Tatsiana DaGrosa, a Parent Groups Specialist, for assistance with forming a group. Dr. Ajayi expressed deepest desire to build positive relationships with families of students with special needs and involve them in improving special education services from the outset of her tenure in the district.

Over the years, in addition to holding regular meetings, Dr. Ajayi and parent members of the Bridgeton SEPAG have participated in multiple family engagement and parent leadership development activities organized by the START-EPSD Project. These activities included county-wide special education parent leadership roundtables, SPAN workshops and webinars, and input sessions to develop the SEPAG Guide. The Bridgeton SEPAG also hosted several workshops for parents and professionals presented by the START-EPSD Project and in collaboration with other community-based organizations to empower culturally and linguistically diverse families to learn about special education rights of children and disabilities and their parents, to facilitate family involvement in literacy development, and advocate for all-inclusive programs for students with disabilities.

Some of the initiatives the Bridgeton School District implemented based on the SEPAG input:
  • Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Platform to teach the five competencies and three academic skills to our students. This platform helps with progress monitoring of students’ skills in SEL and supports parents in implementing the SEL at home.
  • Created an opportunity for our parents to attend evening meetings with the school staff where Literacy Skills are reinforced with the parents.
  • Partnered with the Technology Department to provide tech support for parents on how to use computers so that they can help their child at home during virtual classes.
  • Built a partnership with the parents in Bridgeton Public Schools by listening to their input to better support students with disabilities and ensure that parents are an integral part of the district’s comprehensive support system. Our motto is “It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child.”

The New Jersey Department of Education selected Bridgeton School District to participate in the Indicator #8: Parent Involvement Cohort this year to determine how schools are supporting parent involvement in their child’s education program. The Bridgeton SEPAG would like to remind all parents of children receiving special education and related services in the district to please respond to the Indicator #8: Parent Involvement Survey to provide your input.

The Bridgeton SEPAG meets every other month and assists in planning and disseminating information on programs and services to the school community. The SEPAG meetings have different focus and format, including Parents-Only meetings, Meet and Greet with Child Study Team members, educational workshops, etc. Next SEPAG meeting is scheduled on November 19, 2020.

To learn more and to join the Bridgeton SEPAG, please contact Dr. Ajayi at eajayi@bridgeton.k12.nj.us, call (856) 455-8030 x2023 or visit the Bridgeton SEPAG webpage at Bridgeton Public Schools Special Education and Student Support.

***
We Want to Hear from You:
Share Your Group's Story
How is your SEPAG or parent group using best practices in building and supporting strong family engagement in your school community?

Share your group's story with us for a chance to be highlighted in the next issue of the SPAN Parent Leadership E-news coming in February 2021!

Email your group's story to Tatsiana DaGrosa, START-EPSD Project Co-Director, at tdagrosa@spanadvocacy.org
Save the Date for the Inclusion Webinar
"Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Teaching the Way Students Think"

Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2020 at 12 PM

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed.  

In this webinar we will:
  • Review Universal Design For Learning (UDL) Guidelines
  • Understand how UDL can facilitate inclusion
  • Discuss how UDL can be implemented in remote settings
  • Learn what parents can do
  • Review Key Resources

For more information, contact Debbie Esposito at desposito@spanadvocacy.org or (201) 873-6473
SPAN's Virtual Learning Opportunities
Can't have an in-person training due to COVID-19 pandemic?

No problem! Subscribe to SPAN YouTube Channel and view our virtual library of recordings for information on special and general education, health advocacy, parent leadership, public policy, and much more.
Our Resource Collections:
New Resources Added
Browse our newly updated resource collections for articles, briefs, fact sheets, checklists, short videos, webinars, and training materials.

Inclusion Resource Collection - Here you will find resources on benefits of inclusion, inclusion in education, strategies and tips for families, and inclusion webinars.

Literacy Resource Collection - Here you will find materials on supporting literacy achievement in the classroom, activities to promote literacy at home and in your school/district, as well as literacy webinars.

NJTSS Resource Collection - Here you will find basic information on multi-tiered systems of support, NJTSS framework and its components, practical strategies and tips for families and parents, as well as NJTSS webinars.
Join Our Team!
START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools Project at SPAN is currently looking for a full-time bi-lingual (English and Spanish) Parent Group Specialist to join our team. The bi-lingual Parent Group Specialist will work in the Southern and Central NJ, including counties of Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem, and provide language support to other Parent Groups Specialists working in Southern NJ.

The ideal candidate for this position is an independent and self-motivated individual who has a strong commitment to the importance and significance of the involvement of empowered and educated parents/caregivers in improving academic and health outcomes for children in New Jersey through the development of parent groups and participation in strong family/school partnerships.

For a complete job description and information on how to apply, go to https://spanadvocacy.org/blog-post/53841/

Questions? Contact Tatsiana DaGrosa, START-EPSD Project Co-Director, at tdagrosa@spanadvocacy.org
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network - Our Vision is that all families will have the resources and support they need to ensure that their children become fully participating and contributing members of our communities and society. Our Mission is to empower and support families and inform and involve professionals interested in the healthy development and education of children and youth. Our foremost commitment is to children and families with the greatest need due to disability or special health/mental health needs; poverty; discrimination based on race, sex, language, immigrant or homeless status; involvement in the foster care, child welfare, or juvenile justice systems; geographic location; or other special circumstances. Our Motto is, "Empowered Parents: Educated, Engaged, Effective!"
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network | 35 Halsey Street, Newark, NJ | 1-800-654-SPAN