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Program Aids Parents of Special Children

Parental pride is in ready supply at any graduation ceremony.

But at Lowman Special Education Center this week, parents are doubly proud--of the students’ accomplishments and their own ability to meet the challenge of raising children who are physically or mentally disabled.

Earlier this month, about 80 Lowman parents graduated from the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Parent Institute, an eight-week program that teaches the basics of putting children through school.

In 10 years of existence, the institute has produced more than 100,000 graduates at 300 district schools. But Lowman was the first special-education school to participate.

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“It made me realize that I wasn’t the only one going through these emotions. It was a little sense of relief,” said Wendy Garcia of North Hollywood, who graduated from the institute and has a 4-year-old son at Lowman.

Garcia spoke in the back of the school’s auditorium, where a “culmination” ceremony was held Wednesday for young people moving on to a higher-level school or ending their schooling.

Lowman Principal Helen Hartel told the audience: “Perhaps the biggest congratulations of all should go to the parents. Parenting takes more thought, more concentration, more emotional toll.”

Institute facilitator Maria Elena Meraz said district officials slightly altered the institute program to fit the needs of special-education parents, substituting more relevant topics for units on drugs and alcohol and preparing for college, for example.

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Desiree Davidson of North Hollywood said the message of the institute, though especially helpful given her 7-year-old son’s autism, is universal.

“It helped us redirect our focus as parents,” she said. “It reminded us how crucially important what we say to our children is, that we have to value them and give them a sense of belonging. . . . You see a lot of kids walking around and they think their name is No-No. But there’s a better way.”


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