Partners for Success

By Sandra Zunino

The goal of public schools is to pave the way for educational success for all students, but the needs of children with disabilities are unique. The Partners for Success program helps families of special education children fulfill that goal.

Every county in Maryland has a Partners for Success program as a resource for families of children with disabilities up to age 21. Funding for the program comes from the department of education, explains Jennifer Doege, Partners for Success parent coordinator.

“We work together with families providing workshops, training and letting them know about resources and community services available to assist them,” says Jennifer. The families and the educators work together to make informed decisions regarding the child’s education.

Any child who might require special education receives an Individual Education Program or IEP. Because there are 14 special needs, each IEP is unique and spells out how special education services will be provided to that student.

The IEP is requested if a child’s teacher, parent or doctor has concerns and is reevaluated annually, although the parent can request a subsequent meeting at any time. A team of school psychologists, speech therapists, special education teachers and even the school principal are present for the evaluation to asses the strengths and needs of the student’s performance and come up with goals and ways to meet them.

Jennifer attends every IEP meeting as an advocate for the parents. “These meetings can be intimidating and emotional for the parents,” she says. “Sometimes just knowing someone else is there for the meeting is helpful.”

“I like to think of it as a bridge between the family and the school,” she adds.

Partners for Success also works in conjunction with the QAC Special Education Citizens Advisory Council (SECAC) . SECAC is a partnership between parents, families, community leaders, educators and administrators, working to enhance services available to students with disabilities and to advocate for positive changes in special education in the public schools.

Jennifer has been a chair for five year on SECAC, attending monthly meetings, and addressing the board of education and  County Commissioners on behalf of special education. As a result, SECAC and the QAC Department of Parks & Recreation recently created a new sports activity for youth with disabilities.  The SECAC committee recognized the need for the program and implemented it with the help of local citizen Lee Marks, who pitched the idea to SECAC.

The 10-week class meets Thursday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00 at Kent Island Elementary School. Participants age 4 to 21 enjoy basketball, kickball, floor hockey and many other activities. Special education students buddy up with volunteer youth from the community creating an environment of inclusion. While the current session started last Thursday, there is still time to join. The class costs $70. Scholarships may be available.

In addition to her role with SECAC and Partners for Success, Jennifer sits on the Board of Trustees at Chesapeake Community College and also works part time. She became involved with the programs after her son was diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism. “I love what I do. she says. “It’s very fulfilling all around.”

For more information about Partners for Success, SECAC or special education in Queen Anne’s County, visit qacps.schoolwires.net. or call Jennifer Doege at 410-758-3693. For information about the 10-week sports class, call 410-758-0835 ex 2525.

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