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Raising a special needs child

In Grand Forks, people who work with families of special needs children seem to agree the key to student success is parents knowing what their kids face at school.

 In Grand Forks, people who work with families of special needs children seem to agree the key to student success is parents knowing what their kids face at school. 

 Tricia Lee, Grand Forks Public Schools special education director, says parents understanding their child’s daily routine at school and going beyond simply asking “how was your day?” can go a long way.

   She says even for students who have trouble with verbal communication, a journal will often travel between school and home for parents and teachers to write notes about the student’s behaviors and assignments.

   Parent coordinator for GFPS Judy Konerza says parents need to support their kids as they perform their role in the education process, paying attention.

   “My role is to support parents,” she says.


  Support at home

   She says an important step in helping parents is modeling what it looks like for them to work with their kids.

   Often, she says parents aren’t confident in their ability to help their kids, but when shown what to do, they are more than willing to be involved in their children’s education.

   Joan Karpenko, family support specialist for the Grand Forks branch of Pathfinder Parent Center, agreed that parents are sometimes insecure about helping their children. She says parents of learning disabled children are sometimes learning disabled themselves and this creates unique challenges that can be difficult to overcome. She encourages parents in this situation to develop a close relationship with their child’s teacher and seek extra help and resources.

   Beyond knowing what their children are learning at school, parents can also help keep their children organized and create space in the home and calendar for successful learning at home.

   Konerza encourages parents to set aside a quiet space in their home where their child can do homework at an established time each day. She says having a visual representation of homework time and play time on the calendar helps kids stay on track.

   “Research shows that we thrive from having a visual thing in front of us,” she says.

   She adds that children with an established routine are able to store and recall more information than those who don’t.


  Support at school

   Parents can go beyond setting their kids up for success at home by going to the school and getting involved in their children’s education there.

   Grand Forks schools welcome parental involvement in the classroom, Lee says.

   She says there are many current initiatives to give parents an opportunity to come participate at school.

   One example is the schools’ Read Every Day program, which she participated in as a parent last year. Parents and grandparents come to the school and all activities are cancelled in the morning to make time for everyone to read.

   Konerza says many of the schools’ initiatives can be found on the parent information center website,  www . pathfinder - nd . org . Currently, there are several opportunities for parents to bring their preschoolers to a program called Gearing up for Kindergarten, which tells parents what to expect out of their child’s first year of school, and works with children on establishing a routine and listening skills. Konerza says these are the basic foundation for success in school day to day.

   These programs provide a structured context for parents to enter the classroom, and Konerza says parents are always welcome. She suggests parents communicate with the teachers ahead of time so their time in class can be optimized to provide the most benefit to their children.

   She says some parents choose to volunteer in the classroom and teachers can almost always use help.


  Building relationships

   Outside of the school system, parents of students with special needs can find support at Pathfinder Parent Center. Joan Karpenko runs the Grand Forks branch from her home.

   She says one of her main jobs is helping parents maintain a positive relationship with the school.

   Lee also says keeping an open line of communication with families is important to Grand Forks schools. She looks for opportunities to arrange more meetings to keep parents informed on their children’s progress.

   It’s frustrationg for parents when a child’s education isn’t going the way parents expect, Karpenko says. Her role is to be their advocate and speak to educators on their behalf or attend meetings with families for added support.

   A major concern of many parents is whether the schools are equipped or trained to deal with their child’s specific needs. In those cases, Karpenko works with the school to help them meet the child’s needs.

   For Karpenko, helping students and families with disabilities is more than a job. Her daughter Ali Karpenko has Spina Bifida and is the inspiration for Ali’s Boundless Playground, a playground for disabled children.

  Knowledge is power


   Through Pathfinder and the Parent Information Center, parents have access to a wealth of information to help them navigate their child’s disabilities.

   Pathfinder offers alending library that includes books and informational DVDs. Parents can borrow the resources free of charge.

   Both centers offer parent support groups and speakers and are available to field any questionsa parent might have.

   Konerza encourages parents toask lots of questions and seek out more information that can help their child be successful.

   Beyond education information, she works with another group called Family Voices that works with parents on the medical side of student disabilities.

   The group also offers a teen night out for disabled young people ages 13 to 21. The event includes dinner, socializing and sometimes informational sessions on various topics such as personal hygiene.

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