Nighttime is the right time for educators with the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE)’s HOPE Infant/Toddler Special Education School (also known as Hope Infant Toddler Family Support Program). That’s because twice a year, the team holds family dinner nights to bring together families whose children receive special education services through the program.
At a recent family dinner night in South County, nearly 70 people gathered for pizza, salad, learning, and fun. The school’s social worker and a teacher facilitated a sibling activity and conversation group in one room while another space was converted into activity centers for parents, teachers, siblings and parents to interact with each other.
While HOPE staff provided child care, parents also attended a presentation about how special education services from HOPE help students transition to the elementary schools and what parents can expect that process to be like for their families.
This is an important topic for the parents, since HOPE serves infants and toddlers birth to age three, who have special needs. The school provides free special education services in the natural environment the family selects for their child (home or child care center), with HOPE teachers partnering with the family to promote the child’s development and learning through everyday activities within their family and community.
“Because HOPE special education services are provided in the natural environment for children – predominantly the family’s home – family dinner nights offer an opportunity for parents, siblings, and other family members to network and get to know other HOPE staff not directly related to their child’s services,” explained Lucia Garay, executive director of Early Education for SDCOE.
The response to family dinner nights, which began in 2011, has been very positive.
“Family dinner, like any other activity organized by HOPE, is a great way to meet other families, talk to other teachers, and to see our kids play all together,” said Luciana Leone, a HOPE parent. “It’s a safe and fun environment where we get to enjoy our kids even more. They are seen for the lovely children they are and not for the condition that characterizes them.”
“As parents we need to get as much info as possible. We are enabling them to achieve their own best and HOPE is helping us on this journey,” she continued.
HOPE annually serves approximately 400 to 500 infants and toddlers who have special needs and live within the boundaries of the North Coastal, North Inland, Poway, and South County special education local plan areas.