Engaging Families: Bridging Schools and Families of Children Involved in Special Education

Male student wearing a blue striped shirt and sitting in a red wheelchair in front of a light brown desk. A little girl wearing a colorful shirt is watching him from the background.

Family Engagement in Special Education is a collaborative project of The Arc Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education. Our goal is to empower parents and caregivers and increase family engagement in Special Education to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Our team consists of individuals with backgrounds in education who are also parents or caregivers of individuals with disabilities, so we understand both perspectives. You can think of us as your bridge that connects your family to your school in a variety of ways.

The Arc Family Engagment image of 4 worment standing behind a table with a black cloth cover. The Arc Tennessee Family Engagenet branded graphic is on the front of the hanging cloth and papers are sitting on top of the table cloth.

One of our more recent projects has been with the Teaching All Students Initiative, which funds training, coaching, and tools to help high school teachers and staff build an accessible learning environment for all students, with the goals of reducing the achievement gap and increasing the graduation rate and enrollment in postsecondary education. Our team has developed a presentation for families to go alongside their work of full and meaningful inclusion of students with complex needs that helps explain the why and the how of Student Led IEP Meetings.

We have also worked with districts across the state to plan events for families such as parent support groups, workshops on special education topics, job fairs, transition fairs, back to school and other events. Through the transition fair, we were able to help 50 families (150+ people) in the Chattanooga area with transition resources. If this is something you’d like to see us bring to your area, please reach out to the Regional Family Engagement Specialist in your area (information included below)! Whether it is a question related to accommodations or needing resources on how to better advocate for your child, our role is to serve families to help them engage in their child’s journey in special education.

Another service we provide is creating family-friendly resources that takes topics related to special education and makes them easier for families to understand. Navigating the special education system as a parent can be daunting, which is why we want to help guide you through this process. One of our most popular resources is an explanation of special education terms, where we break down what each term means. Parents have mentioned they tend to bookmark it in order to refer to it later.

Image of a woman sitting in front of a blue wall with white and red letters and behind a table with a black cloth draping over it with papers and pens n top of the table. The Arc's branded graphic is on the front of the cloth with text "Family Engagement in Special Education."

We want you to find success in your Special Education experience, which is why we are hosting important Community Conversations across the state over the next few months. Your input is crucial to helping the Tennessee Department of Education better understand the needs of families. Over coffee and delicious desserts, we will discuss thoughts and share ideas about how we can bring families and educators of school-aged students involved in Special Education together to strengthen family engagement in special education. We need input from families, educators, and school and community partners—present and past! Your ideas and input will help us to better serve you. Find the event nearest you by clicking the link below and registering!

familyengagementtn.com/events

We are always here to answer any questions you have regarding Special Education. You can contact us via chat on our website FamilyEngagementTN.com, social media, email us at specialeducation@thearctn.org, or call our hotline at 833-596-1553. We’d love to hear from you! There are many facets to the work we do to help connect families of school-age children in special education with their respective schools and school districts. From events and workshops, to developing resources, to taking the time to listen to what parents need, our work is a continual process of building a bridge.