Education Advocacy – The Big Bad Binder and the Army Brat

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My daughter went into Grade 5 in her fifth school.  My son entered Grade 7 in his sixth school.  Each of these schools was in a different school jurisdiction in a different province with a different curriculum.  Being a child in today’s society is hard enough but it is even more difficult if you are a Military Brat.

Many families have kids with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans).  When we lived in New Brunswick my son’s grade 5 class had 27 kids with 13 IEP’s.   It is a fact of today’s education system that unless you have an IEP you seem to be unable to get accommodation.

So, how do you advocate for your child  when you move so much?  Each school means another meeting with another principal, classroom teacher, and resource teacher.  Often the curriculum doesn’t even match up when you move from one place to another. Different school boards have different amounts of money for resource support.  A child can struggle in one system and be a rock star in another depending on the expectations in the classroom.

Where does that leave the Military Brat?  (ie. the strong-resilient-amazing-resourceful-dragged-from-pillar-to-post child).  Not only are they often dealing with long and potentially dangerous absences of a parent, but are frequently dealing with the stressors of being the ‘new kid’.

Whether you have a kid with a learning issue or not, every military family should have a Big Bad Binder for each child.  It is an essential and simple tool that every parent should use to keep their child’s education documents in one place and helps the parent to transition to the new posting.  It is also a great way to feel empowered.  Walking into a school meeting with many education professionals can be a daunting experience.  Having all your documents at your fingertips allows you to fight for what you had in your previous school.

In fact the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario recommends creating a binder with all of the following tabs: (Advocacy Binder)

  1. Developmental
  2. Psychological/Emotional
  3. Family and Homelife
  4. Medical and Educational Information
  5. Directory of professionals (Therapists, Doctors, Counselors, Psychologists, Specialists) Including date seen.
  6. Including large envelopes to store documents.

My binder is a little simpler and has these tabs:

  1. Report Cards
  2. IEP’s
  3. Assessments (Psycho-educational assessments, Speech, Occupational Therapy)
  4. Medical (vaccination Record)
  5. Letters (From Teachers, to Teachers, and even one to the Minister of Education)
  6. Communication Log (Dates and times of all communication with schools)
  7. Achievements (special essays written, certificates etc.)

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I’ve had this version of a binder since my kids were in second grade.  Generally I enjoy a collaborative approach with the schools, however there have been times when I have felt that the system has tried to push me around and isn’t interested in what I have to say. When I flip to the tab with the suggestions from the last professional, I feel that I am able to fight for my child’s needs, that my voice is heard and that the ‘System’ seems to take me more seriously.

As we are now approaching a time when my big kid will be heading to university, the binder has all his assessments and recommendations.  I will be able to give him the Big Bad Binder and let him Self Advocate!  What a beautiful thing!

The Future

2 thoughts on “Education Advocacy – The Big Bad Binder and the Army Brat

  1. Hi there, Thanks for posting. I think your approach for managing your children’s transition from one school to another is commendable. I wasn’t an army brat but my family did move a number of times at fairly critical times while I was growing up. I think if my parents had been equipped with an information binder such as the one you describe I might have had an easier time of it at schools. As it was, we didn’t have any information to share with various school officials each time we moved, and there was a fair degree of angst and adaptation as I went through five schools in six years in three cities.

  2. This is awesome! Thanks for the great idea! I have a lesser version of the big bad binder (a disorganized file) for my daughter who deals with a learning disability and health issues. As she enters high school next year this is exactly what I need to do to help organize it for myself and present it to the next school. As you said you have to advocate for your child, school to school, teacher to teacher. I also love the idea that they will someday self-advocate. Thanks for the suggestion.

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