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As any parent of a child with disabilities knows, it can take years to get the hang of caring for a child’s needs. And sending that child to school is important but comes with additional challenges.
That’s why schools and parents must work together to ensure children receive a high quality education. To ensure that happens, Montana Empowerment Center provides support.
“We are a federally recognized nonprofit,” said Rebecca Richards, the organization’s executive director. “We are a parent training information center funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This ensures children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education.”
Free resources for Montana families
Montana Empowerment Center in Great Falls provides free resources statewide. Family liaisons help in person, by phone or email, or on social media. They can train parents and help teachers because they understand how schools work with children with disabilities.
“We are either parents of children with disabilities, or they have a disability themselves,” Richards said.
This experience gives liaisons the insight they need to provide quality support to caretakers and educators.
Boot camps for the new school year
In addition to its year-round services, Montana Empowerment Center is offering a series of lectures in September, called boot camps, to help parents understand Individualized Education Programs for their children.
“We are hitting six communities in two weeks,” Richards said. “To date, we’ve been able to reach thousands of families because they’re reaching out, they’re calling in, they’re finding us through social media. We’ve also written a really family friendly guide of how to understand special education in Montana. We are going to bring this guide out to our IEP boot camps.”
Attendance at the boot camps will be free. The series starts Sept. 12 in Billings, followed by Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, Kalispell, and Great Falls. There will be a virtual session Sept. 26.
Throughout the year, Montana Empowerment Center’s website offers access to short, educational webinars that answer common parent and educator questions. It also hosts a digital library of educational materials, including a tip sheet about an anti discrimination law called Section 504, an overview of functional behavioral assessments that children may receive at school, a parent checklist for IEP meetings, tips for writing a letter of concern to a child’s school, and the Montana Parent’s Handbook to Special Education.
“At the end of the day it’s all about the kids,” Richards said.
Everything Montana Empowerment Center does is to help children with disabilities and their families have a successful educational experience. Richards has seen the results of those efforts.
“One of our best success stories was over the course of several years,” Richards said. “I have this one particular staff person who had worked with this family. This staff person really coached and worked with this family. They were really, really struggling. The kiddo wasn’t always in school. They had some placement issues. But, after the staff person worked with the family, this student ended up being accepted to Harvard.”
In fact, Richards continually hears positive feedback about Montana Empowerment Center resources and programs.
“Parents will call in and give us testimonials and say how much they learned,” Richards said. “Or they’ll come back and say they had the best meeting ever. They’ll say how, through the process, they learned their rights and responsibilities, and it gave them a sense of success.”