By Evi Arthur
Across the country, 13 percent of students in the public school systems are in special education, according to Heather Dalmage, director of the Mansfield Institute. Unfortunately, the way that public school special education is set up requires children’s parents to advocate for them and make sure that they’re receiving what they need to learn properly. Sadly, many of these students do not have parents or a guardian to do that for them.
This summer, the third annual Special Education Advocacy Training will be taking place here at Roosevelt University. This training is designed for those who are interested in becoming certified to become a Surrogate Parent Advocate.
Surrogate Parent Advocates are certified volunteers who go into Chicago Public Schools and advocate for special education students who may not have parents to advocate for them. These advocates make sure that the student is getting everything they need in order to be able to learn successfully.
“This training is a direct pathway for the Roosevelt University community to be directly involved in advocating for others,” Dalmage said.
After attending the training, advocates must then pass a test. Upon passing, they are certified by the state to go into schools and begin advocating for special education students.
“Without advocacy, these kids end up incarcerated or homeless… these kids need their education,” Dalmage said.
Samantha Martinez, a senior sociology major and Mansfield Scholar Activist, decided to get involved with advocating for those with disabilities within the Latinx community after finding out about the many challenges that families face throughout the education process.
“Latinx parents may not feel empowered or comfortable to approach their children’s educators or school administrators due to several challenges, including language barriers, access to transportation and work flexibility,” Martinez said.
These restrictions are where Surrogate Advocates are able to come in and help with connecting parents to educators and acting as an ally.
Unfortunately, the program, which was supposed to take place on Apr. 20, was postponed and will likely be rescheduled for some time over the summer instead.
“You’re giving a voice to kids who usually don’t have much of a voice… they really don’t know how to advocate for themselves so they really need somebody who’s trained and competent to be able to do that for them,” said Maria Stetter, Director of New Deal Teaching Prep Program and associate professor of special education.
Roosevelt’s teaching program is also mindful of creating educators who will be able to help their special education students in ways that current educators might not be able to.
“We try to prepare people who are going to be teachers to be good advocates for their students… people need to advocate for them, so to be better trained to do that and to be called to do that, I think that’s a great and very important thing that can really help kids,” Stetter said.
Although the reschedule date is unknown, another training day will be taking place over the summer and a follow-up will most likely be happening early into the fall semester.
“It has impacted the ways I approach my work and society — to be mindful not all disabilities are visible and respect everyone going at their own pace,” Martinez said.