LETHBRIDGE: As back-to-school gears up, parents of special needs children are going into overdrive. Lethbridge resident Melissa Cardinal-Gish's daughter Tory has autism, and she spent the summer working with her to try and prepare for the coming school year - when she won't have the one-on-one aide she's used to from previous years. The busy mom also plans to meet regularly with school staff.
"Every day it's going to be - how has she been today, what happened, what's been going on with her?" says Cardinal-Gish. "I don't feel at this point that I can just drop her off at school and let her walk out to the car and pick her up. I need to be in there constantly finding out what's going on, how things are being handled and if they need extra help."
Cardinal-Gish is just one of many local parents of special needs kids who may be feeling the strain this year, after the public school board cut about 30 teaching and 30 support staff positions to make up for a $5 million budget shortfall last spring. A local advocate for those families says Cardinal-Gish is taking the right steps in making sure her child gets what she needs.
"We may not see the same one-to-one aides we've seen in the past but we would certainly hope that all kids are still getting the educational supports they need for learning," says Dave Lawson, the executive director of the Lethbridge Association for Community Living. He says parents can start by being involved with their child's education plan and setting specific goals for social, emotional and academic outcomes.
From there, they need to work closely with school staff to monitor their child's progress. "Parents need to know that the school recognizes them, and needs to continue to recognize them, as one of the most important partners in the education of their child," says Lawson. "It's going to be a different path for every situation, but the main thing is to take a team approach."
It's an attitude that seems to be working for Cardinal-Gish and her family so far. "The staff are trying really hard to make sure that everyone's safe and getting a good education," says Cardinal-Gish. "Daily meetings and lots of back and forth with the teachers, aides and the principal. But it will be worth it in the end."