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Anne Couldridge

In the summer of 2003, after my husband retired from a 20-year career in the United States Air Force, my family relocated to the Carlisle area.

Once we settled into our new, permanent home and the boxes were unpacked, our next goal was to get our three boys enrolled in school. What made this task slightly different from most was the fact that two of our boys have special needs. It was around this time that I came to find The Arc of Cumberland and Perry Counties, a nonprofit organization that offers supports and services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

CPARC offers a free special education advocacy service, and it was this service that helped our family find appropriate school programs for our sons. Over the years, we have continued to use this invaluable service whenever there have been differences between the ways in which we envisioned our children’s education and the ways the school districts saw things. What we have gained as parents is a deeper understanding of educational laws and our rights under those laws. This has allowed us to become better advocates for our children.

When the opportunity arose for me to join The Arc of Cumberland and Perry Counties’ Education and Community Advocacy Committee, I jumped at the chance. I am a big believer in giving back to kindness shown to me. It is a privilege to volunteer my time with such dedicated and professional staff as well as the other wonderful volunteer committee members. Our focus is always on reaching parents and empowering them with knowledge on our how to best advocate for their children’s needs.

Most recently, our committee has developed a parent training video series that is aimed at explaining the differences between the special education system and the adult service system. As our children grow into adulthood, there are key differences in the ways these systems provide services and it is important that families are aware in order to ensure a successful transition after graduation. The training modules are available at the CPARC website, and we also will a free DVD version at the annual “Journey through Special Education” conference.

On March 28, CPARC is holding its annual “Journey through Special Education” conference. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to continue putting tools into their “advocacy toolbox.” The morning starts with a continental breakfast before keynote speaker, Dennis Barger, gives his presentation called “Bullying: You Can Make a Difference.” It’s one of a parent’s worst fears and a topic we unfortunately see in the news these days, I am looking forward to learning strategies on how to deal with this awful issue. My hope and prayers at night are that my children will never be subjected to this, but, should that happen, I’ll have gained some coping strategies at the conference.

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As the morning concludes, everyone will enjoy a buffet lunch. Conference attendees then have a choice, for the afternoon breakout sessions, from one of the following topics: Instructional Strategies to Support Classroom Learning, How to Choose What to Use (Assistive Technology), and Understanding and Changing Challenging Behaviors of Children. Throughout the day, vendors of all shapes and sizes are present for you to browse. The conference is offered at a reduced price to families, full-time students and paraprofessionals. ACT 48 hours are given to PA Professional Educators.

In addition to all the helpful information you will learn at the conference, another often overlooked benefit of attending is that it creates the opportunity to network with other families, paraprofessionals and educators. The conference fosters an environment where organic conversations can take place about the current issues our families are facing. It is in these moments that we realize we are not alone, that there are other people out there dealing with the same particular set of circumstances that we are. Not only may you find yourself learning from those around you, but, you may find that you are sharing your success strategies with others. Whether you are a special needs parent, paraprofessional or educator, I encourage you to attend the “Journey through Special Education” conference to both learn and share. You never know how deep the impact of something you learn or share will have on the life of another special needs child and their family.

For more information about the conference, visit www.cparc.org or contact Cindy Adams at cadams@cparc.org or 717-249-2611.

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Anne Couldridge is on the board of directors of The Arc of Cumberland and Perry Counties

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