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New PTA helps parents of special needs children

There’s something special about this PTA. The Superior Special Education Parent Teacher Association was launched to inspire a network of support, resources and education for families with children that have special needs.

“Every time I go to a SEPTA meeting I’m encouraged,” said member Karen LaBare. “Every time I listen to a speaker I get hope that I can help my kids, that I can help them succeed and that they’re going to make it in this; they’re going to make it into adulthood and be happy, successful adults based on what I learn in those meetings.”

That’s the goal of the organization, the second SEPTA in the state.

“I would like to be able to make sure every family with special needs and in-between are able to connect with what they need to give their child the best advancements in life,” said Larson, SEPTA president and co-founder of the organization. “We’re all here to help every child.”

Superior’s SEPTA encompasses the entire Superior School District and anyone can join.

“Obviously we’re trying to reach out to parents of children who have special needs because that’s the focus of it,” said Ellen Chicka, state PTA president. “But anybody in the community can be a member.”

Not all the current members have children with special needs.

“We want to get more community involvement so the community understands special needs kids and what their families are going through,” said Melinda Laakkonen, secretary for the Superior SEPTA and Northern Lights PTA.

It costs $6 to join SEPTA, the same as a traditional PTA. But the focus is different.

“It’s more geared toward parent education versus fundraising and planning events,” said Chicka, who is also a member of the Four Corners and Superior Middle School PTAs.

Since forming in January 2013, the group has brought in speakers on a wide range of topics — autism spectrum, epilepsy, mental health and how an Individual Education Plan is drawn up. The next meeting at 6 p.m. April 16 at Superior High School features Jennifer Phillips, a hearing-impaired education teacher from Superior Middle School.

One of the keys to the program is networking.

“We try to give a time after the speaker to let the families talk and visit before we go into our business meeting,” Larson said. This is no gripe session, however. Parents can share concerns, strategies that have worked for them and possible resource options with one another.

“I myself have found it nice to know that there are other families in the same situation,” Larson said. “Also it’s wonderful to know that we’re making a difference.”

Members can chat with speakers after the presentation and get information about local resources. Larson herself has become an advocate, hunting down resources for members and snagging speakers to match their interests.

A recent session focused on Individual Education Plans and Student Support Teams was well received by parents of special needs children and community members.

“It was just very insightful to sit through that meeting and get a better understanding of how that process works,” Chicka said. “It just kind of put everything in place” and clarified the terms. It also informed families about the team approach to drawing up the plans.

“It makes it a lot easier for you to know who to talk to,” Laakkonen said. “To know there’s more than one person to talk to about your child’s special needs.”

Superior SEPTA currently has 25 members. Larson would like to see it grow to include hundreds.

For more information, check out the Facebook page Superior Special Education PTA, email or call 715-817-4488.