by Eric A Thomas
Parents want the best for their child, no matter the path a child takes. One Jacksonville family has two daughters, each taking her own path, and as Marilyn and Andy Webster continue to raise Alice and Rebekah, they try to help them travel through the maze of life. The actions taken by Marilyn Webster during that travel might just help others in the future.
Alice Webster will be a sophomore this fall at the University of Iowa, pursuing a degree in English and creative writing. Their youngest child, Rebekah, will return to Jacksonville High School (JHS). Rebekah Webster is a person with autism and Mom is right there advocating for the best – one area being for the best in her education.
Marilyn Webster looked at the relationship between families and Jacksonville School District 117. “I saw that the system was set up to be adversarial between families and the schools. This was regrettable. I wanted to provide opportunities for us to come and work together for our common purpose – what’s best for our children,” remarks Webster. So, five years ago Webster formed Special Ed PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) for District 117. This was a way to allow parents to meet others whose kids might have similar challenges. Networking with others can be so helpful.
Beyond the networking among parents, the main function of this group is to support the special education department of District 117, promote inclusion and awareness of disability, and advocate for the students to be allowed to take part in the same activities as their peers. “Every month the director of special education gives us an update as to what’s been going on within special ed in our district. The group has purchased books for schools that explain disability in age-appropriate ways. They have also offered teacher grants to educators so that they can purchase supplies for their classrooms, and they also have given out teacher/paraprofessional appreciation gifts,” says Webster.
Typically, the Special Ed PTO meets monthly, but all activities have been suspended due to COVID-19. When school starts this fall, Webster hopes they will be able to resume monthly meetings. One of the goals at the beginning of this school year is to hold a book fair at The Autism Program (TAP) of Illinois in Springfield. Any community member involved in special education, parents, grandparents, guardians or professionals are welcome to join the group. This is an example of how Webster is an advocate for her daughter through her school.
Another way that Webster helps to
champion for the quality of her youngest daughter’s life is through a group called Joyful Noise. The group provides low-pressure family activities for families raising kids with developmental disabilities or delays, and welcome new members. The group has grown into a supportive community of families. They try to host a mom’s night several times throughout the school year. Some of the group’s activities include music, playground meet ups, petting zoo trips, swimming and an annual sensory friendly and allergy safe Halloween party.
Parenting is a challenge. However, when you have a child with disability often it can be a very isolating experience. Webster encourages parents to learn everything they can about the systems they will have to navigate. Attending workshops and conferences, plus making friends with parents that share the same values can help. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t beat yourself up for not pursuing every therapy or doctor or strategy. You have to make time for yourself, so you don’t burn out. As you learn more about your child, you will figure out which things are the most important. Nobody can do everything,” concludes Webster.
For more information about Special Ed PTO or Joyful Noise, contact Marilyn Webster through Facebook – or call First Presbyterian Church at 217-245-4189 for information on Joyful Noise only. Andy Webster is a computer network engineer for the State of Illinois and Marilyn Webster is a developmental therapist for Early Intervention and also serves as the inclusion coordinator for First Presbyterian.