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Volume III, Issue 3 • Fall 2017 

This issue of Bridges highlights Family-School Communication and Partnerships

To view a pdf version of this issue, please click here

Personal Perspectives — Interview with Jeiri Flores, Self-Advocate

Jeiri Flores


What do you for fun?

I go to the movies for fun, I read and I occasionally enjoy an amazing nap. :)

Do you work? If yes, tell us about your work.

I do work, I work a couple of different jobs here and there but more regularly I work for Flower City AmeriCorps. I am serving my time with AmeriCorps at the Southeast Neighborhood Service Center where I assist with community events and city programs.

Do you volunteer? Where do you volunteer? What do you enjoy about it?

I do volunteer; there is not a consistent place I volunteer at right now but if people need me I'm there. What I enjoy the most is being able to help someone or an organization.

Read more from our Interview with Jeiri Flores, Self-Advocate

Do you go to school? If so, what is your favorite subject or activity at school?

I don't currently go to school; I graduated college in 2014. My favorite subject then was a class I took where we dissected different social movements. It was one of my only classes where I could openly express my passion for disability rights.

When you were in college, how did you communicate your needs or any accommodations to professors or other school personnel?

When I was in college I had to cultivate a relationship with my professors, resident directors, resident assistants, and any campus staff that I encountered throughout my time on campus. I shared my frustrations, challenges, and needs with them; I was always open with them about my struggles on campus. I created a dialogue that hadn't existed on our campus.

When you were in elementary school, how did your parents or family members advocate for your needs?

My mom has always been one of my biggest advocates. She never hesitated to tell people what I needed and if she didn't agree with something they were saying, she told them that.

What is your dream for the future?

My dream for the future changes a little bit every day, but my dream for the future right now is to start a blog.

What does "self-advocacy" mean to you?

Self-advocacy is my way of life.

Can you offer any advice for other self-advocates to communicate their needs or desires to others?

Two things. One, don't ever be afraid to ask for help; no one does anything alone. Two, you are the expert on all things about you, so don't be afraid to express your wants, needs, and desires.



Family-School Communication and Partnerships

stock photo girl with paint on hands

Starbridge staff offer suggestions for ways to improve communication between families and school staff

We asked our staff 'What gets in the way of good communication between families and school staff? What can help?' and here's how they responded:


jean tydingsJean Tydings:

Pre-meeting Preparation:

  • Ask yourself:
    • What do you wish to accomplish in the meeting?
    • What do you want your child to accomplish during the next school year?
  • Develop an agenda for the meeting
  • Write down questions you would like to have answered at the meeting
  • Role play what might happen at the meeting
  • Treat others the way you would like to be treated
  • Take someone to the meeting with you
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone else


During the CSE/504/Team Meeting:

  • Listen to other team members
  • Use the agenda to stay on track
  • Request a break if you feel you need one
  • Check off your questions as they are answered
  • Summarize the meeting if it has not already been done by someone else


Norann Shiner

norann shiner

"Always always re-read emails, text and letters before sending them. Ask yourself, 'What would I think if someone sent this to me?' Sometimes it's a good idea to have someone with no personal connection to the communication read it and give their input."



Maritza Cubi

Barriers to Effective Listening is a resource Maritza often shares with families.

maritza cubi

Ineffective Listening is Very Common:

You can probably think of examples when you have listened ineffectively or not been listened to over the last 24 hours. You can probably recognise the frustration and irritation when you know the person you are talking to is not listening to you. As listening is so fundamental to the communication processes it is important to try to avoid ineffective listening.

Here are things to watch for:

You pay more attention to how you feel about the communicator and their physical appearance than to what they are saying. Perhaps you simply don’t like the speaker - you may mentally argue with the speaker and be fast to criticise, either verbally or in your head.

Not focusing and being easily distracted, fiddling with your hair, fingers, a pen, gazing out of the window, or focusing on objects other than the speaker.

Feeling unwell or tired, hungry, thirsty or needing to use the toilet.

Identifying rather than empathizing - understanding what you are hearing but not putting yourself in the shoes of the speaker. As most of us have a lot of internal self-dialogue we spend a lot of time listening to our own thoughts and feelings - it can be difficult to switch the focus from 'I' or 'me' to 'them' or 'you'. Effective listening involves opening your mind to the views of others and attempting to feel empathetic.

Prejudice or bias by race, gender, age, religion, accent, and/or past experiences.

Preconceived ideas or bias - effective listening includes being open-minded to the ideas and opinions of others, this does not mean you have to agree but should listen and attempt to understand.

Making judgments - thinking for example, that a person is not very bright or is under-qualified so there is no point listening to what they have to say.

Preoccupation - when we have a lot on our minds we can fail to listen to what is being said as we're too busy concentrating on what we're thinking about.

Having a closed mind - we all have ideals and values that we believe to be correct and it can be difficult to listen to the views of others that contradict our own opinions.

- adapted from: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/ineffective-listening.html


Julie BuickJulie Buick

  • Put things in writing when checking for clarification, requesting a meeting, asking for evaluations, or if there is a concern.
  • Talk with a friend or someone unbiased prior to a meeting to help prepare you pinpoint specific concerns and action items.
  • An agenda of the top 3-4 issues helps you to keep focused about the intent of the meeting and what you want to obtain as a result. It also helps show the team you value their time.
  • For meetings, go with the intent to listen, to be open to possible solutions, to bring data that supports your concerns and to keep the focus on the child/student rather than making it about you or others in the meeting.
  • The work a family does prior to the meeting can make the difference; ask for a team meeting prior to any 504 or CSE meeting. Talking with the team prior to the meeting also helps to build positive relationships, keeps the lines of communication open and helps everyone to avoid surprises.


CSE personnel share advice for parents

We understand the mix of emotions parents may feel as they participate in a Committee on Special Education meeting, whether it is their first or their fifteenth meeting. However, parents are crucial members of the team. Parents know their child best and are their child’s best advocate. We encourage parents to come prepared to ask questions and to work collaboratively with other committee members. Only through teamwork can we work together to create an individualized learning program which can assist a child to achieve.

Julie A. Stark, Coordinator of Special Education, and Jason T. deJong, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Gates-Chili Central School District


Ready, Set, Go! Get a Postive Start this School Year

Family-teacher team building early facilitates the continuation of the good start through the rest of the year! Great suggestions for starting things off on a positive note when school begins!

Make a Folder about Your Child

Make a folder with a few pages of information about your child. This is a great place to put your child's picture. Don't use the regular school photo. Choose a photo of your child taking part in a favorite activity. This makes your child a real person and provides additional information.
Include a copy of your child's IEP. While it may be tempting to go through it or highlight portions for the teacher, resist this impulse. This gives the teacher the respect of assuming she will read it and note important points.

Bring your own IEP copy with highlighted points when you meet with the teacher.

The teacher may notice and ask about the highlighted portions. This gives you the chance to reinforce important information, without seeming to tell the teacher how to do her job.

Add a page of information you may have gleaned from last year's teacher. This is information teachers often do not get. Indicate what worked well with your child and any other positive points from that year. You might include 1 or 2 examples of your child's work, either from home or last school year. Pick ones that highlight noticeable progress or special talents.

Answer questions.

Indicate your willingness to your child's teacher to answer any questions she might have about your child. Provide your contact information, especially email. Many times this is the most convenient way for teachers to pass on comments or questions. It also provides documentation for your own files. If you provide phone contact information, include the best time to reach you.

Be sure to record all contacts in your contact log.

Volunteer to help.

Ask about any needs the teacher has in the classroom, for volunteers, extra supplies, etc.

I used to hit some of the sales where supplies are crazy cheap and give the teacher a package of extra pencils, paper, glue sticks, paper towels, or facial tissues. Many times schools no longer supply these and teachers end up buying them out of their own pockets. Even if you bring in only a few things, it lets the teacher know you intend support, not conflict.

Write a Thank You Note

Follow your meeting with the teacher with a thank you note. Find at least one positive characteristic of this teacher to mention. Even if it is her great smile, or kind tone of voice, whatever you can find. Everyone has some positive things about them.

Introduce Your Child to the Teacher and the Class

Depending on your child and his characteristics, you may want to offer to come into the classroom early in the year to talk with the other students. This works best with the younger grades but can be valuable for both the teacher and the child.

I did this for many years, explaining that my son has autism, that he knows he has autism, that it was not catching, and some things they might see.

Follow-Up With the Teacher Throughout the Year

It's always a good idea to meet with the teacher before school starts. Don’t hesitate to ask for a brief follow-up meeting 4 or 5 weeks into the year to go over progress. Ask how you might continue to provide support to the teacher. Again, refreshments never hurt!

Address Problems Immediately

Address any overt problems immediately. Be respectful when you voice your concerns.

If the teacher is the one noting problems, listen and ask clarifying questions. "I want to be sure I understand. I think you said..." Paraphrase what the teacher said.

From Wrightslaw, by Debbie Larson http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/ready-set-go-get-a-positive-start-to-school-part-2/


PTA Tips for Communicating with Teachers Effectively

Offer to help by signing up to donate items or volunteer your time

Provide information that will help the teacher get to know your child as an individual. Include relevant information such as allergies, behavior issues (tendency to be distracted, for instance), learning issues, or changes in family life.

Ask the teacher about expectations regarding homework and what to do if there are problems with homework.

Find out the best way to contact the teacher. Ask for times when it is convenient to talk. Don't expect them to be able to talk if you happen to be at the school and run into them.

Write short notes (written or as an e-mail, if allowed) and follow up with a phone message to the school if you don't get a response in a few days. Be sure to include your phone number and/or e-mail address.

Be diplomatic, especially in e-mail. Choose words carefully and avoid criticizing the teacher.

In e-mail communication, be brief, stick to the point, and don't use animation, pictures or graphics. Stick to school-related information in e-mail.

Be positive and curious. Open with phrases such as "Can we talk about…?" Use "I" statements such as "I'm confused about…" so you don't put the teacher on the defensive.

Don't be afraid to talk to other school personnel if needed. A school counselor might be able to intervene if you are unable to communicate with a teacher.

Be a partner in your child's learning. Assist with homework, help your child learn time management skills, talk about school matters at home.

Send a note of appreciation to the teacher when things go well in class (and mention this to the principal).

It may be difficult to hear what teachers have to say if they deliver bad news about your child. Try to focus on solutions and work with the teacher to come up with a healthy plan to help your child learn.



Walk in the School's Shoes: Help Them WANT to Help Your Child

As a parent, your ultimate goal is to educate school personnel so they want to help your child.

The most important ability to use in resolving problems with the school is to put yourself in the shoes of the people on the other side and answer these questions:

  • How do they see the problem? (their perceptions)
  • What do they feel and believe? (their beliefs)
  • What do they want? (their interests)
  • What are they afraid will happen if they give you what you want? (their fears)

From Wrightslaw, http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/walk-in-the-schools-shoes-help-them-want-to-help-your-child/



From the Editor

IMG 1694A low-tech, but effective tool: When Nick was in elementary and middle school, his one-on-one aide and I wrote to each other almost every day in a communication notebook. Since Nick couldn't speak very well, the notebook was a vital tool in letting me know how the day went. It also served as an important means for the aide to ask questions, get my take on Nick's behavior or other concerns, or celebrate an accomplishment.

I hope the communication tips in this issue will help empower you as you go forward this school year. Good luck to all our families!

– Maria Schartel


Starbridge Workshops, Conferences & Special Events

Click on the event titles below for more information

Show Me The Way Home

September 27, 2017  |  8am-4pm  |  The Strong

Supported Decision-Making: An Alternative to Guardianship

October 21, 2017  |  8am-12:30pm  |  JCC of Greater Rochester

Creating a Life after High School Series

Begins October 5, 2017  |  5-8pm  |  Starbridge

2017 Education Conference

Restorative Practices: Building Connections to Change Behaviors, Repair Relationships and Improve Results

November 15, 2017  |  8am-4pm  |  Locust Hill Country Club



Publication Information

This newsletter is published by
1650 South Avenue, Suite 200
Rochester, NY 14620
(585) 546-1700

Funding is partially provided by a Family Support Services Grant by the OPWDD (Office for People With Developmental Disabilities) and by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Publication within this journal of articles and information should not be considered an endorsement by Starbridge and/or the funders.

EDITOR: Maria Schaertel

DESIGN & PRINT: On the Move Contracting Services - Maát Reed and Sarah Stein