Allyson Pate and Pam Spiering spend their days on the telephone. "The phone never stops ringing," Spiering said. Pate, a former teacher and administrator, and Spiering, a mother of children with disabilities, make up the two-person staff at Loudoun County’s Parent Resource Center.
"I am the educator and Pam is the parent," Pate said. "We model a healthy working relationship between home and school. We are a team."
The team’s primary function is to provide information. "Pam and I support the mission by providing information so that all persons who are participating in the education program are informed and knowledgeable," Pate said. "It makes participation meaningful."
THE PARENT RESOURCE CENTER provides support in a number of ways for parents and relatives of students.
"A lot of it is listening and helping to identify the resources they [parents] need to access," Pate said.
The center offers workshops on a variety of subjects throughout the year. At the beginning of each school year, the resource center holds two special workshops: the first provides information on the special education process; the second is a guide to students’ Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.).
"The I.E.P. workshop is specific to people interested in becoming aware of their role in the development of a youngster’s I.E.P.," Pate said. "Whether they’re getting ready for a youngster’s first I.E.P. or they need a refresher. As the child changes, the components of the I.E.P. changes."
Cindy Stone is a mother of two. "The Parent Resource Center is a place to find out information on numerous topics," Stone said. "I can not express enough how helpful they were to me, especially with the I.E.P. process. They are a wonderful tool and I look to them in the future." Stone also reads the center’s newsletter and updates on their Web site.
The resource center is not only for parents of students with disabilities.
"I would say about 40 percent of our calls are non-special-education questions," Pate said. "We receive calls about friends, social situations, interaction with the family and the community."
THE CENTER’S LENDING LIBRARY provides parents and educators with numerous resources, offering books, videos, periodicals and information packets.
"We put together information packets on a variety of topics," Pate said. "It makes the information less intimidating for parents."
The library contains parenting guides, pamphlets on support groups and information centers and a bulletin board of local, state and national events.
"This is a place parents can go to get answers," Pate said. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act, the center now has many books on reading, math and science in English and Spanish.
"We want everyone to come and feel comfortable here, even if there is a language barrier," Pate said. "There are books on disability issues in Spanish for our growing Hispanic population."
The center recognizes the diverse population of parents in Loudoun County and makes an effort to accommodate parents. If parents need interpreters, Pate and Spiering need a one-week notice.
The library also contains books about young adults with disabilities. "It is a challenge for most people to leave high school. It is even more difficult with a disability," Spiering said. The library offers many resources on transitioning into adulthood with a disability.
"There is a change in responsibilities and roles of agencies," Pate said. "We have up-to-date information and brochures on agencies, primarily disability specific."
PARENTS ARE INVITED to call or visit the resource center with any questions or concerns. The high level of confidentiality enables parents to ask sensitive questions.
"If parents want to talk, we give them options and strategies," Pate said.
The Parent Resource Center, 55 Plaza Street, Leesburg, helps parents understand their role in their child’s education.