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Atlanta Public Schools Mentor Learns to LEND, Lead
Posted on November 13, 2015, by GAPMP
She recently commented about her path to this new destination:
“As a parent of a child with special needs, your passion can sometimes be perceived as being adversarial, which could end up being a barrier to systemwide change within your district. After taking the Crucial Conversation class at the Georgia Department of Education, I realized that sometimes when I talk about my passion I am so intense it causes people to withdraw. Soon after the Crucial Conversation training I was reintroduced to GaLEND by Stacey Ramirez, who currently serves as Family Faculty for the GaLEND program. Leah McCleod, an Atlanta Public School parent and GaLEND participant, told me about this network of leaders who believed in Family-Centered planning. She believed that I would be a great fit for the program.” And so Calloway applied and was accepted into the program.
GaLEND is a leadership interdisciplinary training program that includes as one of the disciplines Family-Advocacy. Although I am very impactful at the one-to-one level of support for families, I have not been as impactful as I would envision myself at both the district, and state level. It is my goal that at the end of the GaLEND experience to have the leadership skills necessary to bring about systemwide change for students with invisible disability (Specific Learning Disability, ADHD, Visual Spatial Learners, etc.,)”
Mark Crenshaw, serves as Director of Interdisciplinary Training for GaLEND, and, works with faculty to coordinate staff and training, and also helps create the curriculum. Crenshaw explains the program intent and requirements: “Georgia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities, known as GaLEND, is structured as a year-long training experience that brings together emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds to learn to collaborate in support of a better world with children and adults with disabilities and their families. GaLEND Trainees commit to a minimum of 300 hours over the course of the year where they learn advocacy skills, systems navigation and state and national leaders who are working to move the disability agenda forward in positive ways.”
According to Crenshaw, family members are a big part of the program, “We include family members as teachers and as trainees in the program. Family-Centered Care is one of the central ideas in LEND and we can’t expose trainees to the idea of Family-Centered Care unless we put families and their stories in a primary place within the program.
He explained, “Trainees in the GaLEND Program tell us that one of the most impactful experiences they have is spending time being mentored by a family that has a member with an intellectual of developmental disability. We recruit 18-20 families every year who share their family’s experience and guide the learning for an emerging professional.”
For Calloway, her hope is that participating in this program will inform the work she does as a parent mentor. “Being involved in this program is helping me become more aware of the emotional barriers that negatively impact how we coalesce around special needs issues. Many parents, myself included, sometimes feel that our IEP meetings are more like a court deposition where the parent is against the professionals trying to justify the support needed for their child. Mentoring includes encouraging, empowering, and educating parents; teaching them what I have learned. I am becoming more aware of the emotions that prevent others on the team from being vulnerable and transparent. I recently participated in an IEP eligibility meeting where, instead of challenging the mistakes and missteps, I used humble inquiry to clarify information that was incorrect, incomplete, and untimely. At the end of the meeting we left very hopeful of the direction we were heading as an interdisciplinary team. I felt that I had served more as an equal contributor than someone trying to ‘make a case’ for services. Teaching parents how to function on an interdisciplinary team will help them get the services they need and build trust between families and schools,” she said.
While GaLEND is family centered, it is also an important step on the career ladder for professionals whose work focus is serving people with developmental disabilities. “The people who end up in LEND are people who want to make a positive difference in the lives of the people that they support. They generally come to the program understanding how to be a good PT, MD, SLP or social worker. LEND offers them an expanded, multi-disciplinary network ,some explicit training on how to influence the people around them to attain the best outcomes that can be achieved for kids and adults, training in leadership and a perspective on disability that reframes what people with disabilities can do,” Crenshaw said.
He added, “Stacey Ramirez serves in the role of Family Faculty for the GaLEND Program. Stacey has been an invaluable resource in the development of the LEND Program here. There is almost no area of the LEND Curriculum where we do not seek the voices and experience of self-advocates and family members. “
Many of the professionals drawn to the program are considered to be proof of the success of GaLEND. Crenshaw named a few examples: “Donna Johnson was a family trainee in our 2011-201 GaLEND cohort she is now the Director of Child Health Intervention at the Georgia Department of Public Health.”
“Dr. Karen Harris Brown was Special Education Trainee in our 2014-2015 cohort. She now serves as the Associate Director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in the US Virgin Islands.”
“Kylie Moore was a self-advocate trainee in our 2011-2012 cohort. She now directs the Ambassadors Program at All About Developmental Disabilities.”
Crenshaw commented, “My passion for training emerging leaders in GaLEND comes from a deep desire to do my part to build a world where children, adults, and families living with disabilities can live in inclusive communities. These communities are places where each of us is welcomed to live, learn, work, worship, and enjoy each other’s company. The interdisciplinary training and cross-disciplinary collaboration that we teach in GaLEND are the foundation of the world I envision.”
A new crop of GaLEND trainees will soon be selected. “The application process begins in January and we select a multi-disciplinary cohort of learners in the Spring. The training begins in August and goes through the end of April. Applicants submit a resume and the answers to three questions on not more than two pages. During the second stage of the process we bring applicants in for in-person interviews where we select the best to include as trainees in the program,” he explained.