Partnering with Parents
To Meet the Needs of Our Students with Special Needs
November 27, 2019 Volume 2 Issue 4
Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG)
Our SEPAG has been featured in the November issue of the SPAN Parent Leadership E-News! Here is a link to the article- https://spanadvocacy.org/blog-post/hamilton-township-school-district-atlantic-county-sepag/. The article is also printed in it's entirety below.
SPAN is the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network. If you would like to sign up for the e-news, you can do it here- https://spanadvocacy.org/.
We have a Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) in the district. Each district board of education shall ensure that a special education parent advisory group is in place in the district to provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.2(h).
Our first meeting of this school year occurred on 10/25/19. Many thanks to those of you who were able to attend. At our first meeting we determined other meeting dates for this school year. They are as follows:
- January 9
- March 5
- May 7
All meetings will be held in the Davies IMC from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Please contact Marylynn Stecher- firstname.lastname@example.org- if you would like to serve as a member of this group and you will be added to the email group to get reminders of meetings.
Hamilton Township School District (Atlantic County) SEPAG
The Special Education Supervisor’s Perspective
The Hamilton Township School District (Atlantic County) SEPAG has been in existence for many years. As the new Supervisor of Special Education, Marylynn Stecher became a facilitator of this group in December 2012. With the assistance of the Supervisor of Instruction for Special Education and the Supervisor of Special Projects, they take turns securing SEPAG meeting locations, providing refreshments for the meetings, and facilitating this group. Over the past seven years, many positive ideas have come from our SEPAG .
Mrs. Stecher admitted that it was scary to become a facilitator of the SEPAG. “As administrators, we definitely open ourselves up to criticisms and complaints. However, it has been an amazingly awesome experience, ” she added. Obviously, the best part of this process has been the connections the special education department has made with the parents and the connections parents have made with each other . One of the other perks has been connecting with Tatsiana DaGrosa, a Parent Group Specialist on the START Project (now START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools Project), who has been an exceptional resource to the SEPAG, attended the group meetings and events in our district, and always comes with a wonderful attitude and a wealth of information.
Five years ago, the Hamilton School District SEPAG hosted the very first Special Education Parent Leadership Roundtable in Atlantic County , which Tatsiana facilitated. Since then, parents from our SEPAG and the Supervisor of Special Projects have regularly attended quarterly roundtables and provided valuable input toward the development of the “Special Education Parent Advisory Groups in New Jersey: A Guide to Developing and Conducting an Effective Group” as well as, most recently, the creation of Supplemental Quick Reference Guides (see “Your Leadership Toolbox” section of this e-news for these Quick Guides). Two years ago, Tatsiana nominated one of our parents for the Parent Leadership Award for his outstanding leadership role and valued contribution to family engagement in the community.
It was evident at the start that there was a need to build trust between home and school and to improve communication . Over the past several years, the special education department has improved communication by using multiple methods of communication. Now they have a Special Education Page on the district website that includes information about the SEPAG ( meeting schedule for the 2019-2020 school year, SEPAG mission statement , and norms for meetings ), links to Special Education Parent Newsletters, and other information pertinent to families. The special education department also has a Facebook and Twitter presence (@HTSDSpecialEd). The Hamilton Township PTA will frequently repost the SEPAG information, which is helpful as they have a wide following.
In 2018, the special education department started a parent newsletter, “Partnering with Parents,” which provides valuable information and resources. This newsletter is shared via social media and the district’s parent portal.
The favorite method of communication remains speaking with families in person, which is why the SEPAG meetings are so crucial . Each year the SEPAG initial meeting takes place in October. At this first meeting, the SEPAG members pick dates and times for future meetings as well as discuss topics that they would like to focus on or address during the course of the school year.
Last school year the SEPAG ran one of the meetings via Facebook Live . It was our intent to have an in-person meeting in which we could connect with additional people via Facebook Live. However, only one parent came in person and all others participated online. We had much more participation than in a live meeting; however, we missed that personal connection. We are considering how to use this tool effectively as we move forward.
We are also considering how the SEPAG can be more involved in the annual Community Resource Fair. This has become a huge event in our district and provides much needed information and assistance to families. In previous years the SEPAG has hosted a table at the event. This year, a few SEPAG members have expressed an interest in working with parents of students with special needs to create profiles of their children to provide teachers and other caregivers.
Our SEPAG is constantly evolving and improving . As the SEPAG mission states, it is our goal to empower parents to become effective advocates for their children. In order to do this, we need to listen to our parents to understand their needs and concerns and we need to provide support by educating parents and making positive changes based on their feedback . Although our SEPAG group is usually small and often transient, we can and have made a big impact for our students and families!
Our district has a license with Learning Ally so that students who struggle to read can access all the books they need to and want to read, including text books, popular fiction and nonfiction. If your child is a struggling reader, please discuss access to audio books with his/her teacher. Listening to audio books as a family, particularly on road trips, is a wonderful activity to do together while helping your children approve their attention, vocabulary, and comprehension skills! https://learningally.org/
Educating the Whole Child
Over the past several years, our district initiative has been to improve the mental health of our students and staff. As part of this initiative, we have introduced suicide prevention training for our middle school students and social emotional learning for all of our students. We have been training the staff on how the brain works relative to trauma. You may hear your children talking about Second Step, mindfulness, Mind Yeti, Lifelines, brain breaks, breathing, etc. These are a few of the ways we are ensuring that our students are safe and that their brains are ready to learn. We have learned that there are two ways to calm a brain- movement and breathing. Many of the teachers like to use Go Noodle to work on movement and breathing activities. A sample activity is below.
Register Ready – New Jersey’s Special Needs Registry for Disasters
“Register Ready – New Jersey’s Special Needs Registry for Disasters allows New Jersey residents with disabilities or access and functional needs and their families, friends, caregivers and associates an opportunity to provide information to emergency response agencies so emergency responders can better plan to serve them in a disaster or other emergency."
For more information, click on this link.
Project Child Find
Parents of Hamilton Township who are concerned that their school age child (3 years to 21 years) may have special needs can receive assistance from the local school district's Child Study Team. In addition, the Hamilton Township Schools are organizing a Child Find campaign to locate and provide services for children ages three to five who may have physical, cognitive, language or emotional difficulties. Information also may be obtained on how and where to receive services for children with special needs who are younger than three. Professional guidance, assessment and an educational program are all available free for eligible children. For more information contact the Hamilton Township School District Child Study Team office at 476-6111.
NJ Special Education Website
NJ Special Education Code
Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE) and other resources
START Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities
Notice of Nondiscrimination
The Hamilton Township School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, affectional or sexual orientation, ancestry, disability, age, or social or economic status in its programs and activities.
The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies:
Affirmative Action Officer
For further information on notice of nondiscrimination, visit https://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/contactus.cfm for the address and phone number of the office that serves your area, or call 1-800-421-3481.