The conference was everything I expected. Over 100 people came to the Roundhouse in Vancouver to hear a number of experts speak about the various dimensions of advocacy for children with special needs. There are many good things to report. First and foremost, this was a conference about taking a zero tolerance approach to ensuring that all children receive an education that will help them grow and achieve their potential. Yes, the conference was primarily about equitable access for children with special needs, however the strategies and underlying values reflected a concern for all children.
While great emphasis was placed on working with the teachers and school administrators as much as possible, the focus was on the steps to take when barriers are raised and the advocacy has to become more formal. The keynote speaker , Birgitta Von Krosigk, was the lawyer acting on behalf of the children and parents in a number of high profile court cases. Lawyer, Lindsay Waddell, spoke on Education as a Human Right.
Jodie Wickens is a newly-elected MLA whose political career began with advocacy for her child’s education. She spoke on the provincial education policies. The morning ended with Theresa Grech speaking on the mental health challenges facing children with special needs.
The afternoon speakers were equally experienced and accomplished, and spoke on various aspects of advocacy. A panel of parents spoke of their success in obtaining appropriate support for their children, and a presentation on IEPs spelled out some strategies for ensuring meaningful consultation and instructional control.
Something that impressed me was that, although the participants in the conference clearly had many concerns about the education of their children, none of them dominated the discussion with stories of their own challenges. Everyone was there to learn about strategies for advocating. There was unity in the commitment to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure children have access to the best education possible. We need to carry that commitment into advocating for the children who are described as gifted.