Special Education PTA – Growth in Missouri

Three months ago, I had never heard of Special Education PTAs, but I clearly remember the day that I did.  It was June 15, 2018, and I was in a meeting for Missouri Disability Empowerment, when one person asked if we had heard of a Special Education PTA (SEPTA).  I perked up, and questioned further.  As I learned about what SEPTAs in other states do, I felt hope at the possibility of finding other parents that often feel isolated and are embarking on a journey that only another parent of a special needs child can understand.

Being a mom of three children, two of whom have special needs, I have often struggled with feeling isolated because many things that are taken for granted by most families can be so difficult, such as going to a grocery store, having a meal at a restaurant, or going to the park.  In addition, the relationship between parent and school has a different aspect when IEPs and 504s are involved.  Special needs parents and teachers become members of an entire world of evaluations, meetings, therapies, and mountain of special education acronyms, which the majority of teachers and parents do not experience.

I still remember my very first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting for my son, which took place eleven years ago.  Everyone was very friendly and helpful in guiding us through this process; however, I felt like they were speaking a foreign language.  There were numerous acronyms, forms, and decisions being made that I truly knew nothing about.  After that meeting, I spent hours researching and becoming educated on this process, so I was more prepared to be involved at the next IEP meeting.

There are many parents of special needs kids at different stages of the special education process in a school district who can be a great benefit to each other.  There is no reason that every parent new to special education, or at a transition point, needs to start from scratch.  There should be a resource for parents and teachers to come together to guide and support each other through the process, which is where the Special Education PTA can be invaluable.

School specific PTAs do an amazing job of supporting the school and children through various methods such as field trips, classroom supplies, classroom parties, fun fairs, etc.  Oftentimes, the special education areas are overlooked, or are not a priority, as these students are typically a small percentage of the total school population.  Even the events that are billed as being for the entire school are often overwhelming to many special needs children, so these events are avoided, or if attempted to attend might end with a negative experience or meltdown.  When a school specific PTA and Special Education PTA work together, amazing opportunities and experiences for all children can happen.

The experience of creating a Special Education Parent Teacher Association has been a wonderful and exciting experience, thanks to the help of Mary Flatt and other members of the Missouri PTA.  There is a fair amount of administrative work on my end; however, the Missouri PTA’s packet walked me through the steps, and Mary spent many afternoons giving me guidance on how to start.  In our area, we are also very lucky to have a Columbia Council PTA, which has also been very helpful and supportive.  The trainings I have attended have been very informative and respectful of our time.  Rosa Parks, the Columbia Council PTA president, also has a wealth of knowledge and much needed advice about getting started.

I was very nervous when the moment of truth arrived – the organizational meeting.  To become an official PTA, ten people need to attend and become charter members, but I was thrilled that over thirty people attended.  After two months of mainly word-of-mouth and social media advertising, the Columbia SEPTA has grown to fifty-one members.

We have so many ideas that we want to accomplish, resources to share, and support to give to anyone with an interest in special needs.  People within the group are stepping forward and taking on roles that help SEPTA grow.  Erin Keith, Communications Chair, has been invaluable in setting up a website with online memberships, preparing flyers, and coordinating Facebook and Twitter communications with our members.  These items are so important in this day and age.  The main challenge right now is being realistic about what we can accomplish in the first year, and what we need to take longer to plan as well as working to develop a great relationship with the school.

The Columbia SEPTA, for me, was truly a ray of light that I needed.  The journey has been fun and filled with ups and downs.  The mom doubt crept in, but the other parents are there to offer support and offer guidance.  It is so refreshing to have plans for events that include our kids, and take their needs into account.  This would not have been possible without the support of Missouri PTA.

Missouri’s only special education PTA gets started in Columbia

Link to video and news article

COLUMBIA – Columbia will be the only city with a special education parent teacher association in Missouri.

Como SEPTA will organize relations between parents and Columbia Public Schools, including programs that get services from CPS, like home schools and state schools.

The organization says it will bring families going through similar experiences together to share tips from their experiences.

Columbia Public Schools estimates 1,740 students will qualify for special services in the upcoming school year, according to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Como SEPTA’s first organizational meeting on July 26 needed at least 10 people to officially create the organization.

President Michelle Ribaudo said she was nervous about the turn out, but was happily surprised when nearly three times the necessary number became members.

Ribaudo said her first born is on the autism spectrum and the learning curve was difficult. She said Como SEPTA will be a resource to help parents not feel like she did.

“A lot of times you feel alone when you start out in the special needs process,” Ribaudo said. “There’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of evaluations and it can feel overwhelming and isolating.”

New member Gretchen Roberts said, “It’s interesting to get perspectives from parents who have various different kids, with various different capacities of needs and understand the different things they’re going through in their school.”

Roberts’ son has a variety of disabilities. He is blind, non-verbal and uses a wheelchair. He attends Missouri’s school for the disabled, Delmar Cobble.

Along with creating a community to share ideas, Ribaudo said, Como SEPTA’s first priority is education. Educating parents about rights and responsibilities and getting a parent to parent advocacy program going are top priority.

“They’re going to be able to help give us an extra help with our voice when we’re trying to advocate for our child and their needs in school,” Roberts said.

She said she hopes to understand what are some things she should be fighting for at her son’s school and to better understand the school system in regards to special needs.

Ribaudo said it’s not just parents of children with disabilities who are encouraged to come to Como SEPTA meetings. She said anyone interested in helping out is welcome.

Como SEPTA’s officers are meeting this week to set a calendar for future meetings.

Field Services Department Introductions

Welcome to the new 2018-19 school year!

The Missouri PTA Field Service Department has completed our Regional Director (RD) assignments for the 2018-2020 Missouri PTA (MOPTA) term.  Each RD will be reaching out to their assigned councils and units to do a quick introduction and to also assure that Elected Officer names and contact information has been submitted to MOPTA.  Unit/council officer information is extremely important for us to ensure that everyone is getting valuable up-to-date information, resources and event happenings that will help keep our PTA members informed, engaged and empowered to advocate for all children.  

The following individuals will be available to answer any questions or assist your unit/council directly when needed: (all RD’s can be reached through the email of rd@mopta.org)

FOOTHILLS Region (RD position open)
Sarah Day

GATEWAY Region (Two (2) RD positions open)
Pat Higginbotham
Camille Teason

HERITAGE Region (Four (4) RD positions open)
Mary Flatt

MARK TWAIN Region (RD position open)
Carla Wiese

MERAMEC Region (RD position open)
Carla Wiese

OZARK Region (Three (3) RD positions open)
Mandy Mitchell

PONY EXPRESS Region (Three (3) RD positions open)
Tara Miller
Lori Prussman – St. Joseph Council & Units
Susan Rupert

THREE TRAILS Region (Two (2) RD positions open)
Charolette Gantt – Grandview Council & Units, Hickman Mills Council & Units,
Katherine Sartain – Blue Springs Council & Units,
Amy Blakemore – Lee’s Summit Council & Units,
Christine Kent – Independence Council & Units, Belton Council & Units, Raymore-Peculiar Council & Units, Raytown Council & Units
Paula McKinney

If you would, please, share your council/unit calendar with your RD,

we would love to come and visit during a meeting or event to get to know everyone a little more and see what great work you are all doing.  We should all be looking for ways to “Toot” our PTA horns about the exciting programs and services that PTA provides.

Thank you everyone for your continued dedication and “volunteer” work that you bring to our PTA mission:  To make every child’s reality a potential by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.  And if you ever need me, contact me anytime (day or night), Christine Kent – Missouri PTA VP of Field Services and Proud RD “team” member at fieldservices@mopta.org.