Written by Emily Zhang & Lillian Zhou Transcribed by Robert Sun On March 11, the Village Roll Out was held at CCACC. The event was sponsored by CAPA-MC, CCACC, and the Asian American Studies Program. Panelists from MCPS, Montgomery County Federations of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and Partnership for Extraordinary Minds joined together to give a talk on building connections with community resources for families with children with special needs. The panelists were Julie Reiley, Kevin Lowndes, Simone Geness, Dr. Christina Conolly, Celia Serkin, and Melissa Egan. To start the event, the audience watched a section from the movie “The Silent Dancer”, which is about a Chinese girl who became deaf at a very young age but persisted and eventually overcame the many challenges that she faced, realizing her talent as a dancer. This video corresponded to some of the topics mentioned in the event. Julie Reiley Julie Reiley is the co-chair of the MCPS Special Education Advisory Committee and is the chair of the MCCPTA Special Education Committee. At the event, she specifically talked about being an effective advocate for your child. She mentioned that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be requested through a written request to the school for students diagnosed with disabilities. An IEP only is obligated to provide support and services that a child with disabilities needs. At an IEP meeting, the parent is the student’s best advocate. Parents should request an interpreter if needed and come with someone to take notes. Before the meeting, the parent should fill out the parent report with the hopes and goals for their child, as well as bringing a written list of what to cover in the meeting. In addition, Reiley talked about how students with special needs are entitled to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), in which he or she can receive an appropriate education. This means that parents of kids with special needs can advocate for some general education classes for their child. The key points to remember are that being an effective advocate means appreciating, and a child’s IEP must be tailored to meet his or her unique needs.
“Education should focus on abilities instead of disabilities. Stigma and shame are other people’s problems. If anybody looks down on you or your child, that’s their problem. They’re failing, it’s not you.”
If there are concerns on how things are being handled on a school level, parents can contact Mr. Lynch, the director of Special Education or Mr. Lowndes, the Associate Superintendent. Kevin Lowndes Kevin Lowndes is the associate superintendent of MCPS Special Education. He gave a brief overview of the MCPS service, which starts from birth to 21 years old. The more students that can be reached at an earlier age, the more support later on. From 3-5 years old, there are preschool programs and centers in daycares to provide the least restrictive environment. The 3-5 personal program contains services provided at daycare programs with specialized teachers or services provided at pre-school. At the elementary level, the school tries to provide the least restrictive environment. Special schools have services in another classroom or (for students who need more intense needs) programs with specialized therapist and nurses. At the middle school level, resource classes are available with more time to complete assignments or tests. There are also contained classes for the intellectually disabled which includes two pathways: 1) GED-ED and 2) Alternative Learning Outcomes curriculum. GED-ED is the path to getting a diploma, and Alternative Learning Outcomes curriculum is based on state standards and modified to help with life skills. Special schools still exist, and public schools can also partner with non-public schools for more challenges. The high school level is very similar to the middle school level. Simone Geness Simone Geness is the supervisor of MCPS Transitional Services. She gave a brief overview of the MCPS transitional services, which are required by law under IDEA. Some psychological services that are provided are special education and 504 evaluations, individual and group counseling, academic and behavioral consultations, and additional mental health services. To request these services, parents can contact the building principal for school psychologists. A bilingual assessment team (for special education evaluations for students who speak another language other than English) can be requested by contacting Dr. Michael Barnet at 240-740-4420. Key players in transition services are the student, special education case manager, teachers, counselors, transition service teachers, family, and other members of faculty. “Transition services is an inclusive process… I encourage parents to come out to information meetings whether sponsored by MCPS or other agencies… We always have to integrate students and we always want to make sure that we are planning ahead [for] what [the] student wants to do when they graduate from high school, [and] when they go into the world.” Dr. Christina Conolly Dr. Christina Conolly is the director of MCPS Psychological Services. Dr. Connolly oversees the psychologists working in MCPS schools and is also part of the bilingual assessment team. She receives referrals for the Bilingual Assessment Services and provides consultation support in individual and group counseling. In her work, Dr. Connolly determines which students may need individual support and works with psychologists to provide that support. During the panel discussion, Dr. Connolly stated, “mental health is like cancer- it’s difficult to struggle silently, and individuals are not always successful.”
“Mental health is like cancer- it’s difficult to struggle silently, and individuals are not always successful.”
She is looking forward to the increased emphasis MCPS is placing on student mental, emotional, and social health next year. “Academics are important, but so is the mental and social aspect. So next year we’re going to focus on those more.” Dr. Connolly can be contacted at (240) 740-5640 or emailed through Christina_N_Conolly@mcpsmd.org. Celia Serkin Celia Serkin is the director of Montgomery County Federations of Families for Children’s Mental Health. She works in Bridges to the Future, a program for 16 through 21 year-olds struggling with mental health, specifically those that are fully or loosely disconnected from society (i.be, living alone, unemployed, or without a support network). Serkin informed the audience that these young adults are often trapped between adult and child transitional services, and forced to bear the responsibilities of an adult when they are unable to do so successfully. Along with seminars about education, vocational instruction, employment and housing, the program holds movie nights and youth resorts to build bonds between youth, adults, and their families. Celia Serkin can be contacted at (301) 412-3604 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Melissa Egan Melissa Egan is the Vice President of Partnership for Extraordinary Minds. Also known as xMinds, the partnership was founded in 2009 to unite parents, professionals, and educators to advocate for improved education. Completely parent-run, the members consist of families, educators, and adults with autism who share a common goal of empowering parents to be effective educational advocates for their children. xMinds holds many events including monthly speaker talks at the Silver Spring Civic Building; Annual Extraordinary Minds events; clinics about the IEP every October, where attorneys and other experts to answer questions from parents; a Parent Panel every May; and a monthly newsletter about their events and services. Next week an Annual Safe Interactions with Law Enforcement Workshop will be held to teach students how to respond appropriately in such a situation. To learn more about the many events upcoming soon, visit https://xminds.org/.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.