Mainstreaming Parents in Schools

Article excerpt

Parents of children with special needs often feel excluded from everyday parent activities at their children's schools. They often find themselves not receiving notice of the traditional programs that schools invite parents to attend. Even when they have other children attending the same school, parents of children with special needs may not be asked to participate in ordinary volunteer activities.

Over the past two decades, we have focused so much attention on the struggle to include all children in regular school and community activities that we may have underestimated the need to address the inclusion of their parents. Laws have been written that require everyone to find ways of helping children be included in school and its range of activities and opportunities. Now is the time to look at the "mainstreaming" of parents.

Parental involvement in schools has long been recognized as being important for insuring the quality of school programs and for enlisting support for schools from the broader community. Many schools spend a great deal of time trying to make the parents feel and become involved.

Parents in the community become active in parent/ school activities because they want to play a part in helping the school help their own children as well as other children. They also know that when parents are involved, children are likely to do better. As parent or parent/teacher groups evolve, they work together on those activities that have become defined as a function of the group over the years and on specific activities in response to the expressed interests of current group members. When they create programs for the school year, they are likely to do so without the input of parents of children with special needs. Later, when parent activists recruit more members or try to drum up attendance at special programs, they are less likely to turn to parents of children with special needs.

Involved parents also develop a social network with other parents and teachers. New friendships and social activities with other adults interested in children evolve, and practical day-to day issues like after school child care or car pools or play opportunities for children or even job opportunities for parents can become helpful, informal "results" of parent involvement in a child's school. …

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