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Advocating for Educational Success

As kids head back to school, CASA volunteers are spending a little extra time in the classroom as well. A CASA volunteers’ connection and presence in our children’s school is crucial. Placement changes with children moving to different foster homes and schools can frequently create confusion and important information can be lost. CASA volunteers can provide consistency and the continuity necessary to ease those transitions so kids can be as successful in school as possible.

4 Tips for Helping Kids Succeed in School:

1. Make education a top priority
Talk with the child about the importance of school in their lives. For younger children, you can explain the vital link between what they learn in the classroom (English) and real life work (writing a report for your boss). Or the connection between science and preparing a meal for yourself. For older youth, talk about the “million-dollar ticket”—not a lottery ticket but a high school diploma. Studies show that having high expectations for a youth’s educational achievement is the single most important factor in a child’s educational success. Be a cheerleader for the child. Go to their school play, choir concert and volleyball game. Becoming involved demonstrates how important you consider school.

2. Develop good relationships with school personnel
This includes the teacher, of course, but also the secretary who answers the phone, the principal and the counselor. They may have a special understanding of the child; if so, they can support you in helping the child deal with any problems. For example, ask the teacher to send home a written note describing a child’s behavior problem, such as acting out, rather than relaying the day’s events verbally in front of the child. This saves the child embarrassment. With a little bit of information, school personnel may be more understanding of particular behaviors. Develop and encourage open communication between yourself and the school; email is a wonderful tool for this purpose if you and the teacher are comfortable with it.

3. Talk directly to teachers about their classroom expectations
The teacher is your ally in a child’s education. To be a knowledgeable, effective  advocate for the child, you should be assertive yet courteous and respectful of educational professionals. Know the child’s rights, and request the proper services firmly yet not combatively. Be a resource for the teacher—you may be the only person who knows the child’s educational history. Understand that the teacher has other children in the classroom to consider as well.

4. Ensure that the child has an educational portfolio
The parent or guardian should maintain a variety of documents for the child. These include enrollment records (birth certificate, social security number, immunization records, withdrawal forms from previous schools), report cards and progress reports. Any special education records should be kept as well. Examples are Section 504 plans, most recent Full and Individual Evaluations, Individual Education Programs and Behavior Intervention Plans. Also include standardized test scores, list of medications taken during the school day, school photos, referrals, notices and correspondence (emails, notes on phone calls or meetings), awards/honors and student handbooks. For older children, parents and guardians will also want to understand the school’s requirements for graduation and SAT registration dates. Youth need support and preparation to make the transition from high school to college or employment. Is there a workshop or conference the parent or child can attend?

Questions for Advocates to Ask Teachers

1. What are this child’s strengths in school?

2. What are his weaknesses in school?

3. Are there gaps in her education? At what grade level is she performing? Is she on target? Is this an appropriate grade level for this child? If not, what is the appropriate grade level?

4. Is he failing classes?

5. Has she ever been retained?

6. Does he receive/need tutoring? If so, in what subjects?

7. Did she receive any special services at her previous school?

8. Does he have behavior problems at school that affect his learning?

9. Does she have attention problems at school that make it diffcult to learn? Has she been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

10. Has he been diagnosed with (or is he suspected to have) any of the disabilities that might affect his education: autism, auditory impairment, visual impairment, speech impairment, traumatic brain injury, orthopedic impairment, mental retardation or emotional disturbance? If yes, what special education services are available?

Adapted from Casey Family Programs