School officials, parents of disabled get together New support group draws 100 people to first official party

September 10, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A new support group for parents with disabled children drew about 100 people to its first official party Saturday. Members of Parents Reaching Out are hoping the informal get-together can help improve communications with county school officials.

PRO members coordinate services for families and help parents cope with the challenges presented by disabled children.

The group was formed last year for mutual support and advocacy. Members wanted to start this school year with a picnic to put school officials and parents in a setting that might ease occasional friction among parents and school officials.

"We talked about life, not just disabilities," said Jane Harmon, PRO vice president. "We want to show parents with disabled children what can be done. We want to encourage awareness for everybody, for the public and for teachers."

Members want their children in classrooms with nondisabled children as much as possible. Part of the PRO mission is to increase opportunities for disabled children in the schools and community.

Hope Schwartzbeck, PRO treasurer, said she is unfamiliar with the workings of the Board of Education.

"A lot of us are searching for answers, but we are not always sure what questions to ask," she said. "Information is not always readily available. There should be an open book for us, but often we have to first look for the book."

School board member W. Gary Bauer said the the picnic was a good "networking" opportunity for parents, who met administrators and other families with similar problems.

"It was a great opportunity to talk about mutual concerns in regard to special education in Carroll County," Bauer said. "We seem to be satisfying parents' concerns here. The system tries to accommodate those needs as best we can."

On school visits, board members see the children in the classroom, but at the picnic, "we had a chance to see the children together with their parents," Ann M. Ballard said.

Ballard, a board member, listened to parents' concerns, particularly about long bus rides to school, and promised she would look into scheduling.

Robin Farinholt, principal of Carroll Springs School, which is devoted to special education, said the afternoon generated goodwill between parents and educators.

"PRO people have similar values and viewpoints," said Farinholt. "They are wonderful advocates for inclusion."

Local businesses donated nearly all of the food for the picnic. The library lent a storyteller, an art teacher spent hours painting faces, and therapists demonstrated helpful exercises.

"All those donations told me the community is behind us," said Harmon. "The idea is to have parents, schools and the whole community working together to have successful children."

PRO meets from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight at Carroll Springs School, 495 S. Center St., Westminster. Information: 876-5574.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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