WATN? Margaret Fountain Spielman
Posted on November 20, 2016, by GAPMP
I served as a Parent Mentor for about 5 years with Bleckley County Schools.
Before I became a Parent Mentor I worked at a bank. I moved to Cochran and initially took a job as a substitute, then a paraprofessional. At the end of my second year as a paraprofessional Phillip Mellor asked me if I would interested in interviewing for the position of Parent Mentor and of course I did. I’m not sure why he asked or perhaps what he saw in me but I am thankful that he gave me the opportunity. I had no prior advocacy knowledge but I was a mom of a child with a disability and I had a heart for families, who like me, were trying to navigate this new life that was given to us. The rest as they say is history.
While serving as a Parent Mentor I was chosen to participate in Focus Monitoring. I also developed and helped train local law enforcement, emergency responders, and local retailers in how to handle individuals with Autism in an emergency situation. We began support groups, I served as a member and then on to Chair of the Heart of GA Transition Alliance. Fellow Parent Mentor Kathy Simmons and myself created a presentation “A Walk in Our Shoes” that we were fortunate enough to be able to share with current and future educators. I learned so much about myself during my time at the partnership as well as others. Our mission was to bridge the gap from school to home and I feel that I was able to do that.
I left the Parent Mentor Partnership and continued my advocacy role with Parent to Parent of Georgia while pursuing my degree in Early Childhood Education / Special Education. I served on the Superintendent Parent Advisory Council for four years where I oversaw the “Parent Moment” portion of both Georgia Family Engagement Conferences. I also trained families throughout the state on everything from IDEA to Medicaid Waivers, and how to communicate effectively with their systems.
In 2015, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mercer University with a degree in Early Childhood Education/ Special Education. That same year I started my teaching career at Montgomery County Elementary school as their Special Education SDD teacher. In February of 2016 I was awarded Special Education Teacher of the Year. While my roles have changed I continue to advocate for families through my role as a teacher. I have used both my personal and professional experiences to help me create a culture of acceptance, love, and hope with my families and colleagues. I know what it’s like to sit in IEP meetings, to feel overwhelmed, worried, hopeless. I know what it feels like to have adults make assumptions about your child based on a single test but I also know how it feels when you find someone with whom you can connect with, who shares your vision, and who believes in your child more than you thought anyone could. That’s who I want to be for my parents. It is that advocacy role I choose for this season in my life and my career.
The Parent Mentor Partnership helped me develop the tools I need to make those connections. It taught me to set goals, create communities, and listen without the intent to respond. It also taught me that I have value and gifts and I am much more than a parent of a child with a disability. It allowed me the opportunity to share my voice and connect with others while helping families in my community and across the state.
Hunter has graduated since I left the Partnership, but I continue to use my knowledge to help other parents through volunteering and teaching.
My family (I’m the one wearing the red sweater in the picture) is a blended to say the least. There are 8 children total, most of them I did not give birth to but help to care for. Both Dillion and Hunter have Fragile X Syndrome and are adults now. Dakota is 8, he is in the third grade and has ADHD. Conner and Hope are 8 and 7. Klarah Anne is 3, Availa Grace is 1, and the newest addition is Willow. Willow, my great niece, is 3 months old and experiences Down Syndrome. We are large and somewhat unconventional but each of them are loved beyond measure and I am thankful to be their mom, and MiMi.