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Special School District of St. Louis County
 
Parents Mentor Parents
It’s no secret that SSD offers many outstanding resources and services to the students and parents it serves. The Parent Education and Diversity Awareness Program hosts workshops, disability awareness programs and has a large library of information available in the Family and Community Resource Center.

However, data showed that there were some parents, particularly in North County, who, for a variety of reasons, were unable to take advantage of the resources offered by the district.

“For some, simply getting to workshops was hard,” said Nancy Martin, administrator for the Parent Education and Diversity Program. “Getting full support to minority and under-served parents was something that needed improvement.”

With that, the Parent Mentor Program was born. This spring, a group of parent mentors began their training.

The group is made up of seven parents of students who receive SSD services, and serves those living in the school districts of Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Jennings, Normandy, Ritenour, Riverview Gardens and University City.

Sandra Collier, a parent mentor in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, emphasized the importance of making sure all parents, not just some, are able to make use of the resources that SSD offers.

“Parent mentors act as kind of a safeguard to keep people from falling through the cracks,” Collier said.

Parent mentors not only present a pathway between SSD and North County communities, but also assist parents looking to navigate through the complex waters of the special education world.

“A lot of parents that are new to SSD can be like deer in headlights,” Martin said. “It can be difficult at first. And two school systems is confusing. Parents can call (the mentors) and say ‘what does this mean?’ or ‘how does this work?’”

Through training, as well as through first-hand experience, the parent mentors possess a full stockpile of answers to tough questions from parents.

“People don’t know what to do when their child is diagnosed as having special needs,” said Collier. “They think they should be ashamed. But as mentors, we have a chance to change some of those ideas in the African-American community. All children are unique and special and deserve the same opportunities.”

As the Parent Mentor Program grows, so too does its effect on those it was designed to assist.

“We were already active parents,” said LaRenda Hutt, a parent mentor in the Riverview Gardens School District. “Now we have a formal structure and program. Without the program there would be a lot more closed doors and the connection would not be as fluid as far as sharing information with partner districts and the community itself.”

Collier said that she could have benefited from having a parent mentor when her child began receiving services from SSD.

“There are parents out there that really don’t know who to talk to, or what to ask or how to go about getting what they need to support their child’s education,” Collier said. “Hopefully we can be part of the active process to be sure they can get what they need.”

For more information on the Parent Mentor Program, contact Nancy Martin at 314-989-8194 or nmartin@ssdmo.org.
Parent Mentors
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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