For the parents who just completed a year of training to learn how to become advocates for the educational rights of their children with disabilities, the annual event marking their graduation from the program, to be held December 1 at Loyola Marymount University’s Roski Dining Hall, promises to be a proud moment.
“These are mostly parents from lower-income families who are struggling to make ends meet while raising one or more children with disabilities, which is itself a full-time job,” says Terese C. (Tisa) Aceves, PhD, MA ’99, professor in the LMU School of Education’s School Psychology Program and interim chair of SOE’s Department of Specialized Programs in Professional Psychology. “Often, they have felt beaten down by the educational system. Completing this program so they can become better advocates for their children is a huge achievement, and to be able to come to a college campus to celebrate is really special.”
For more than a decade, Aceves has lent her expertise as an active volunteer with the nonprofit Learning Rights Law Center, including as a trainer, consultant and evaluator for Training Individuals for Grassroots Education Reform, a program that teaches parents and caregivers who have children with special needs how to advocate for appropriate supports and services. TIGER parents make a one-year commitment to a monthly, three-hour class designed to help them gain a better understanding of special education and special education law. The program gives enrollment priority to low-income families.
As a lead-up to the graduation event, which is held at LMU every December, Aceves spearheads a TIGER Toy and Gift Drive. Until Nov. 30, 2018, members of the SOE and larger LMU communities are invited to donate items appropriate for ages 8-13 that the TIGER parents can give to their children for the holidays. Participants in the drive can also make purchases through an Amazon wish list. “These parents have sacrificed so much to go through TIGER training, and many end up becoming mentors to other parents,” Aceves says. “The toy and gift drive is an opportunity to celebrate their kids, who are the purpose of all of this, and help them feel special on this happy occasion.”
Aceves has made TIGER an integral part of her SOE research and teaching. “The biggest hurdle for families who have children with disabilities is their lack of knowledge about what it requires to support that child,” she says. “It takes a vocal parent to know how to get the services and supports their child needs. And low-income, diverse populations often don’t have someone in their corner.”
By involving her own students in the work of TIGER, Aceves aims to graduate educational leaders who will advocate for their students with disabilities, in partnership with families. “Including this experience in my coursework has been absolutely invaluable,” Aceves says. “More than just reading and talking about navigating systems and parents who don’t have a voice, my candidates participate in intakes and hear directly from parents whom I’ve worked with, which is a far richer experience that helps to prepare them to become the change agents who will address this important social justice issue.”