Services and programs your child's school offers that you probably don't know about.
Required by Law
From extracurricular activities to its attendance policy, you may think you're in the loop about your child's school. Unfortunately, many administrations disclose complete information about the services they provide only on a need-to-know basis -- at best. So if you're like most parents, you're probably not aware of all the educational resources your tax dollars provide. Read on for a primer of little-known school services that can help maximize your child's performance.
- Section 504 Accommodations A child who has a broken arm, asthma, diabetes, HIV, dyslexia, or ADHD, among other conditions, must receive adequate accommodation from his school's Section 504 coordinator, according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If your child's learning or movement is being hindered by such a condition, talk to school officials about getting him evaluated and having a Section 504 plan drawn up to make things easier for him. Typical modifications a school might make include extending testing time, adjusting class schedules, providing occupational or physical therapy, and/or permitting the use of aids like calculators, laptops, and tape recorders. If mobility is an issue, the law may even provide for a paraprofessional to help your child get around. The Council of Educators for Students with Disabilities lists specific rights under the 504 resources section on its Web site.
- Special Education Help Is your child having difficulty focusing in the classroom or developing positive social skills? Ask your school in writing for a special education evaluation; the school must meet with you to discuss it and provide it at no cost to you. After a thorough assessment (which can take as long as a month) by trained professionals, and with your input, a decision will be made about whether your child has a learning disability or other condition that may qualify him for special services. Under the national Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your school is required to provide the appropriate assistance, such as test and curriculum modifications, extra classroom support, and other services based on the plan you devise with the other evaluators to facilitate your child's learning. "Remember that you are an equal partner with the school in developing an Individualized Education Program and making all decisions about your child's education," says Diana Autin, Esq., executive codirector, Regional Parent Technical Assistance Center at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network in Newark, New Jersey. The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities offers more information on IDEA and what it entitles your child to.
Supplemental Services for Schools "in Need of Improvement" If your child's school falls under the "in need of improvement" rubric, meaning that it failed to meet its state-prescribed goals on standardized tests for two years, your child may be eligible for additional services. (You can contact your state's department of education to find out your school's status, but the school is obligated to inform parents about the academic status of the school, and its status should be noted on the school's report cards, as well. The department of education also lists the status of many, but not all, schools at www.tutorsforkids.org.) If your school has been deemed wanting, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that the school provide free tutoring to eligible low-income students, among other services. The school will allow you to choose from a preapproved list of tutors. For more information on this and other services available to children in schools that need improvement, see:
Available in Most Schools
Many school services are required by state, but not federal, laws or are simply part of schools' general practice. Not sure what's available in your state? Find your board of education through the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at www.schoolmatters.com and ask. Here are a few of the more common services your school may provide.
- Student Assistance Teams Is your child academically gifted or challenged? Most schools have an organized Student Assistance Team, which typically consists of a guidance counselor and school psychologist, but may also include other education professionals. Together, you can brainstorm strategies to improve your child's academic prospects. For example, the group could determine how he learns best and give him and his teacher tips on how to adjust his assignments accordingly. Or, if he's gifted and needs work that he would find more challenging, it might create an independent study course to keep him motivated. Student assistance teams can also help parent, child, and teacher coordinate plans -- the group might work together to establish morning, lunchtime, or after-school help sessions or get all parties to agree that your child can have the opportunity to submit a detailed project for a class grade rather than take a test. Although the existence of these groups isn't mandated by law, "every school has something like this," says Jennifer White-Peters, a guidance counselor for the Burlington (New Jersey) City School District.
- Counseling Most states require that middle and high schools have guidance counselors whose job is to provide psychological help to all students who need it. But what if your family is in need of counseling as well? Many schools will also provide this service, in which case it is free of charge. If your district doesn't have the resources, ask for a list of subsidized counseling services in your area, White-Peters recommends.
- Peer Mentors If your child is intimidated at the prospect of attending a new high school or depressed that he didn't make the varsity squad, ask his school about peer-on-peer counseling programs. While these resources aren't mandatory, many schools are happy to assign an older student as a big brother or sister to show a newbie around -- some even have peer networks in place so that your child can work through problems and issues with a sympathetic person closer to his own age (either one-on-one or through a hotline). Older students can often offer situation-specific advice that's relevant in a way that adults' words of wisdom can't always be, which may be extremely helpful to kids troubled by bad breakups or frustrations with grades. Of course, for problems deemed more serious, peer mentors are generally trained to refer their advisees to professionals.
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