What next? AHS assists with what's next for special needs children

Did you miss our Stepping Stones event? You can find information from the night on our Facebook page here.

ALBERTVILLE – All kids are special, but raising a child with special needs and abilities requires a great village, something two Albertville High School teachers – Mrs. LaWanda Mitchell and Mrs. Paula Kaylor – are hoping to grow for Marshall County families.  

“It’s very important for our families to have a game plan for what’s after high school,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “Our students don’t follow the traditional career path or the traditional college path. They need to know what the options are for them. Just like planning for college and careers, you must start planning early to get on the right pathway. They need to start planning early to get on the pathway for them to have their services lined up for what they’ll need when they exit.” 

For parents of exceptional children, there are many decisions to be made about the future, post-high school. Many parents enter IEP meetings, especially parents of students getting close to exiting, not knowing what services are available or them or how to go about getting those services. 

The term “individualized education program” or “IEP” refers to a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with federal law. It lays out the special education instruction, supports, and services a student needs to thrive in school. 

“It’s a stressful process for them, so we thought we could get some speakers and organize an event where they could come and get all the information they need in one place. Plus, it helps us learn more about what’s available out there for our students as well,” said Mrs. Kaylor.

The event, called Stepping Stones, will take place Feb. 28 from 6-8:30 p.m. in the Albertville High School lunchroom. It's open to parents of exceptional students in Marshall County in seventh grade and up. Kaylor and Mitchell spoke about the importance of starting these processes early. Starting early means less stress on parents and a smoother transition for students and their families. 

“This is ideal for parents of seventh graders and up. You must start this process early,” said Mrs. Kaylor. “For example, with Marshall County Arc, you have to enroll through a portal with the state department. There’s paperwork that has to be done before you can get into the portal. Then, there’s a waitlist of 5-6 years sometimes because of the limited space. They have to be prepared, so they can have a spot on the waiting list. Starting early helps them get where they need to be by the time they leave us.” 

Some of the community agencies attending offer services that can benefit parents while their students are enrolled in school now. Kaylor said she wanted to be sure things would be explained in a way that every parent can understand it, especially SSI benefits available to exceptional students, which is different than adults. 

Presentations will last around 10 minutes and be followed by breakout sessions parents can pick from to attend. Presentations will cover information about SSI benefits, employment, conservatorship and guardianship, college opportunities, respite care, assistance for parents, photo IDs, and more. Families will walk away with information in hand, including contact information for knowing who to talk to about what, which Kaylor says is sometimes half the battle.   

“We hope parents go away with a better understanding of what is out there that they can take advantage of. We also want them to have a better understanding of what the process is once their kids hit high school… that there are things past us… that there’s a process to it and how to navigate it,” said Mrs. Kaylor. 

The pair hopes Stepping Stones will become an annual event and that parents are able to go into IEP meetings with more information. Other counties have expressed interest in hosting an event like this in their county as well. 

“It is a statewide issue that parents are struggling with knowing what’s available to them,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “We’ve talked to teachers from other school systems in our county, and they have the same struggles with their parents, and they are looking for services. When they reached out to us, we wanted to include them as well. It’s a county-wide issue, and it’s something we can offer to share with our neighbors.” 

Light refreshments will be served by The Exceptional Aggies Café. Parking will be available behind Albertville High School on the bus loop. Translators will be available as well. 

Speakers at Stepping Stones include:

  • Amber Cotney – Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults (Easter Seals Camp ASSCA)
  • Lynn Curry – The Darden Center
  • Mary Jane Dasher – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
  • John Gladden – Auburn University EAGLES Program
  • Christy Goens and Katy Fortenberry – 310 Agency
  • Kelly Goff – Alabama Department of Mental Health Autism Services
  • Derek Greer – Medicaid Waiver Services
  • Lisa Hansford – The Miracle League of Albertville 
  • Micah Harris – Adult Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Anastasia Hughes – Marshall County Arc
  • Tiffany Martin – Employment Specialist 
  • LaWanda Mitchell and Kenna Cahela – The Exceptional Aggies Café 
  • Emily Seckel and Andrea LeCroy – Conservatorship and Guardianship 
  • Breanna Talley and Janey Sanderson – Shining Stars Choir Program
  • Holly Willoughby – Makers Child