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Parent Mentor Stories

A large group of high school students stand outside their school throwing their graduation caps up in the air

With 100 parent mentors working to improve outcomes for students with disabilities around the state of Georgia, we work to dovetail our programs with state initiatives and the improvement plans in our home school systems.  The following stories relate to one very important statewide initiative. Georgia’s calling this effort Student Success: Imagine the Possibilities.  Read on to find out what parent mentors are doing to help parents and community members work with school system administrators, teachers and staff to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities in Georgia.

Evidence to Practice – The Work of Data Collection and Process

By April Lee

Wayne County Parent Mentor and 2015 Phil Pickens Leadership Award Winner

The Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership (GaPMP) has been a part of the Georgia Special Education System for over a decade. In that time we have grown to nearly 100 Parent Mentors who are all parents of a student with a disability in their local school system. With our reach impacting every region in Georgia, we are recognized as an asset to systems who intentionally seek to partner with families and their communities. In 2016 the GaPMP continues to be an instrumental partner in Student Success Imagine the Possibilities (SSIP) which seeks to raise graduation rates and decrease the graduation gaps of students with disabilities compared to their peers.

In order to make the greatest impact in FY16 (and beyond) Parent Mentors have reflected on past successes, researched family engagement practices, and established a GaPMP Family Engagement Framework to include evidence-based practices for improving student outcomes utilizing family and community engagement. The efforts of a statewide construction team in creating the GaPMP Family Engagement Framework have proven to be exciting and rewarding. As a result the GaPMP has a new planning, implementation, and reporting system that will unify systems in their work to improve essential partnerships, student post-secondary choices, and graduation outcomes.

In the FY16 Parent Mentor Toolkit all Parent Mentors have the same tools to work effectively in their regions as they partner with their SSIP team members to improve engagement and student success. The toolkit includes Evidence to Practice Guides, Family Pre/Post Surveys, and Family End-of-the-year Survey. Each tool is helpful in planning and implementing evidenced-based strategies to partner with families and community members through routine and ongoing action in order to reach goals and outcomes set by the Parent Mentor and Special Education Director in individual systems.

The Evidence to Practice Guides were created to guide family and community engagement work related to Partnerships, Post-secondary Success, and Graduation. Each Parent Mentor, with their Special Education Director, has selected one goal and two vital behaviors (routine, ongoing actions) related to meeting a goal for their system. Parent Mentors will continue doing other work not necessarily connected to SSIP initiatives, but for the purpose of data collection, the Evidence to Practice selections they have made will be captured during benchmark and end-of-the-year reporting. The result: a process that will capture evidence of practices that have the potential for making the most impact in systems utilizing family and community engagement to improve student outcomes.

The GaPMP will continue to coach and train Parent Mentors at the local, regional, and state level to support their planned work, in order to make the greatest systemic impact being supported by local efforts. We expect our FY16 work will positively impact graduation efforts at a local and state level while bringing further recognition to the GaPMP in leading the state and nation in impacting student success through engagement initiatives.

Editor’s Note: April Lee was integral in the creation of the FY16 Parent Mentor Toolkit and works with GaPMP Leadership to collect data and train parent mentors.



Imagining the Possibilities for Student Success
Jane Grillo’s story
Parent Mentors around the state first heard about Georgia’s new initiative to improve graduation rates for students with disabilities last spring. We learned a new acronym, SSIP (Student Success: Imagine the Possibilities) and we started planning and collaborating with our districts for the FY16 school year.
In White County, the school district I have served as parent mentor for the last 7 years, our look pretty good. But, our director, Dr. Mary Kay Berry reviewed data and commented, “we can do better.” She wanted us to begin work immediately and we gave ourselves a July deadline to begin the process of working with community stakeholders. This process was new to our community,
I, as parent mentor, was asked to help with our introductory stakeholder meeting held last July. Letters were sent out to key community members and school administrators. The first real data drill with stakeholders reviewed helpful information about our district that was new information to some members. For the first time, people in our community, like a bank president, heard about the disparity in graduation rates and we could help him understand why this is important.
The stakeholders kept quizzing us about why we were focusing on students with disabilities. It took us a long time to help people in the community understand that the majority of our students had an IQ in the average range, and that many of the problems keeping a student from graduation had to do with more subtle factors than simply failing classes. We helped them understand the impact of barriers such as; as economic disadvantage, and students feeling isolated, and insecurity about what to do next.
The stakeholders also learned that these are the students who, because they typically do not aspire to leave home to go to college, are the people who will stay in the community. They are the future hires for local businesses, future consumers and hopeful future contributors to our community. A few people dropped off the radar, but that was OK because we wanted the people who had buy in and saw this process as valuable.
We held a data drill meeting with the refined stakeholder group in August and continued the discussion about who are our students with disabilities. . This was invaluable because, staff in schools (and parent mentors) are so accustomed to understanding the needs of people with disabilities, we forget that not everyone is up to speed. The folks got more comfortable as time went on and I think they left that second meeting with a better understanding of what we meant when we said, “Our kids are your kids and your kids are our kids,” and, “special education is a service, not a place.” It warmed my parent mentor heart. I don’t recall, in any of the community meetings or events I have been to over the years, being able to really work with business people and community leaders to help them understand the why and the WIFM (what’s in it for me) of the graduation rates, post secondary planning and outcomes for students with disabilities.

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