Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

From Serving Families to Community Awareness

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

From Serving Families to Community Awareness

Article excerpt


For school professionals to work effectively with families that have children with exceptional needs, they must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to connect families with community resources. This study examines the learning outcome of a course designed to expose graduate students to interacting with families and learning about the community through direct services. Results show that students' sense of self-efficacy, beliefs in families, and perceived knowledge in community resources significantly increased at the end of the semester.


School professionals such as teachers, school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, and school nurses are charged with the mission of assisting children to succeed in schools. To accomplish this mission, professionals must work with the family system (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2001). Among the families that school professionals assist on a daily basis, families with exceptional children face extra challenges that require professionals to have both the sensitivity and knowledge in engaging families (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001). However, not all graduate programs that prepare school professionals require specific training to work with exceptional children and their families (Korinek & Prillaman, 1992). Furthermore, few programs that prepare school professionals to work with this unique population require practical experiences with these children and their families (Milsom & Akos, 2003). However, a growing body of research illustrates many positive outcomes for college students to learn through servicing people in the community (Gray, Ondaatje, Fricker, & Geschwind, 2000). Milsom's study (2002) also demonstrates that both knowledge and direct experiences with students with disabilities enhance school counselors' sense of preparedness to work with this population. Not providing students with practical experiences can render these future professionals less prepared to work with this special population.

Among different types of services that professionals provide families, linking families with school and community is a crucial piece (Epstein, 1995; Epstein & Sanders, 2000). This triadic relationship, family-school-family, is pertinent since the needs of children and their families often exceed the scope of practice of one particular profession or one single system. To prepare future professionals to connect families to community resources, Milsom (2002) suggests that school counselors create a resource list of individuals, organizations, print materials, and web sites to be consulted for issues regarding special education or disabilities (p.337). In order to better prepare future school professionals to assist families that have exceptional children, a graduate course was designed to provide students with the opportunity of developing partnerships with families to explore community resources that can strengthen these families to assist their exceptional children. Besides providing direct services, these graduate students regularly integrate their experiences with the learning contents of their textbook and class materials by reflecting on their work with families in class discussion and in their reflection journals. Quantitative analysis of the learning outcomes of this course and comments of students' reflection are presented in this article.


As a professor in a counselor education program, this author co-designed and co-taught a three-semester-unit course with another professor from the special education program of the same department to prepare school professionals to work with families that have exceptional children. In order to help students understand the unique situations and needs of these families and to learn how to connect families to resources, students were required to: 1) identify families that have children with exceptional needs in their community and are willing to establish partnerships with them; 2) provide direct services to families through meeting with them and developing a family resource notebook for them; 3) develop direct contacts with local agencies and report their experience in class; 4) research into community resources at different levels; and 5) reflect on their experiences in serving families and researching into community resources. …

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