by Lisa Tramontana
All parents want the best for their children, and that includes a quality education. But while most of us take that right for granted, those with a special needs child have a real challenge on their hands.
Lacey and Trey Prats felt that way as they tried to advocate for their son, Oliver, who was born with spina bifida and epilepsy. “He needed a lot of physical accommodations at school,” said Lacey. “He needed medications, a seizure protocol, a special desk, an aide for bathroom issues. It’s overwhelming to be an advocate for your child when you’re not aware of certain laws and regulations.”
Most schools identify a special needs student as one who has difficulty learning or functioning in a traditional school setting. Help is available through a federal law that mandates a special learning plan be created for students with special needs. The IEP (individualized educational program) addresses a child’s unique learning issues, which might require special modifications to class work, support services, assistive technology, therapy services and other considerations.
Parents work with schools to develop an IEP, but the process can be complicated and frustrating. That’s where Jannean Dixon comes in. Through her business, Cornerstone Educational Consulting, she helps families work with schools to create an IEP and learn how to navigate the system to assure the best education possible for their child.
Dixon retired last May after 10 years as a teacher. Her career change, she says, was a calling from God. Two years ago, she was working with a special needs student who was about to move into a mainstream classroom. “I loved this student and really wanted him to succeed,” she said. “I told his mother that I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, but to please make sure he had an IEP before switching schools. She didn’t know anything about it, so I went to her home, met with the family, and created an example IEP for their son, which his new school used. Later, she called me and said God told her to tell me that this is what I should be doing with my life.”
Dixon wasn’t completely surprised. Her career had provided her with knowledge about every aspect of the IEP issue, from the people involved to the paperwork required, and she enjoyed educating parents about the process. She had also been praying about the possibility of starting her own business.
“It had been on my heart,” she said, “and when I started to mention it to others, people came out of the woodwork offering to help me. Financial advice, a graphic designer, clients … so now I’m now consulting full-time.”
Oliver Prats, now 9 and a first-grade student at St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School, is one of many students who has been helped by Dixon. “Jannean is such a breath of fresh air,” said Lacey Prats. “She held our hand through the entire (IEP) process and took a daunting task and turned it into something pleasant. What she has done for Oliver and our family is invaluable.”
First and foremost, Cornerstone provides family advocacy and education. As Dixon’s website states, the IEP meeting can be a challenging experience, and parents need to be prepared. Cornerstone helps parents identify their child’s specific needs, discuss solutions, and have a list of questions ready for the principal or school officer involved. The company also provides transition assistance for children moving to a new classroom or new school. And Dixon conducts special teacher workshops to train educators about the IEP process.
In a short time, Cornerstone has helped many families who are grateful for Dixon’s expertise. Her website includes several testimonials from parents who praise her knowledge, experience and confidence.
You can learn more by visiting cornerstoneeducationalconsulting.com, or by calling (225) 931-8560. You can also email Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website includes articles of interest to parents, including how principals impact school culture, how to choose between a public or private school, and what to do if you suspect your child has a learning disability.
Dixon will be offering a free one-hour seminar for parents who have children with IEPs. For more details or to register, please visit the website.