A new Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) is forming, and local parents and teachers are invited to attend the group’s scheduled first meeting on Wednesday, February 28, from 7 to 8 pm, in Newtown High School’s Lecture Hall, 12 Berkshire Road.
According to SEPTA President Melissa Beylouni and Vice President Jennifer Strychalsky, the group is the first of its kind in Newtown.
While SEPTA will serve the district’s special education students, it is open to all Newtown parents and teachers in the district, according to Ms Beylouni.
According to Ms Strychalsky, members can “be as involved as they want to [be].”
The idea for forming the SEPTA began last school year, when Ms Beylouni was in her second year serving as the PTA president at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School. She had heard about SEPTA groups in other towns, and she noticed a lack of special education parents represented at PTA meetings. Last spring she spoke about forming a possible SEPTA with district special education supervisors and administrators, after first taking up the idea with Hawley Elementary School PTA Co-President Kristen Bonacci.
Now, the new SEPTA is seeking members. Ms Beylouni and Ms Strychalsky said the Newtown SEPTA will have a positive supportive environment for parents. Ms Strychalsky said she recently took an advocacy special education law course through Council of Parent and Attorneys and Advocates, and she said the new group will be informative. Ms Beylouni quickly added it will also be fun.
Ms Strychalsky said since her daughter in special education is a grade older than her typical child, she understands getting involved in school activities can be difficult for those with only a student with special needs.
A disconnect can form, said Ms Beylouni, who has a fourth grade son in special education. Parents who have students who are served out of the district may also not participate in district programs, Ms Beylouni added.
“We might have Head O’ Meadow families that have kids that go to school but they are not coming to our school,” Ms Beylouni explained. “And I just feel that the parents are missing out from seeing other parents in their community.”
The new SEPTA has four board members. Along with Ms Beylouni and Ms Strychalsky, Brenda McRae serves as its secretary and Margaret Keayes serves as the treasurer.
“We want parents to be informed,” said Ms Strychalsky. “I know a lot of parents that don’t know their rights… and the process can be really lonely, tiresome, and it is really tough.”
Ms Beylouni said the Newtown SEPTA will look to get informative people to speak at events and it will host fun programs to bring the community together. She has plans already for night events, for sensory sensitive activities, and for community-forming programs.
A role of a PTA is to fundraise to support educational needs, and Ms Beylouni said the Newtown SEPTA is already thinking about some of the district’s wish list items.
Fliers about the new SEPTA will be posted around the school district and more information will be shared with parents in the district ahead of the February 28 event.
Ms Strychalsky is a Middle Gate Elementary School parent, and both the SEPTA leaders said they want all of the schools in Newtown to be represented in the new group. Since the group is not based in one school, Ms Beylouni expects the new SEPTA to have access to all of the school district’s public schools for events.
The February 28 meeting will focus on recruiting members.
“I really want this to be a group that is just so supported by the community,” Ms Beylouni said.
Ms Strychalsky said her vision for SEPTA is to be a group “for parents who normally feel they are not included in regular PTAs, to be informative for parents… to have fun and raise money, and… I also envision us working with the other PTAs.”
Ms Strychalsky pictures teaming up with other PTAs to host events.
“In this age of inclusiveness, these kids are growing up knowing that there are kids with differences and that is a good thing,” said Ms Strychalsky. “They have to have empathy and understanding for all people. So I think that is also a role that we should play as well.”
“While we are having fun,” Ms Beylouni added quickly.
The charter for the new SEPTA will be presented at the February 28 meeting by the Connecticut PTA, according to Ms Beylouni. According to a flier for the first meeting, new members can sign up with a $10 donation, either in cash or payable by check.
For more information about joining SEPTA or about its upcoming first meeting, e-mail the group at email@example.com.