By Carla Wyrsch
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to work in the field of education. I always felt a calling to educate and advocate for children, especially those with disABILITIES. Some of my early memories include playing school for hours, pretending to be my beloved second-grade teacher Ms. Miller, right down to her red manicure. The influence of great educators carried on through high school and into college. Those influences coupled with professional and life experiences and a chance encounter have led me to where I am today.
A Chance Encounter
Military-connected kids face a unique set of challenges due to frequent moves, attending numerous schools, and parents who are often absent due to service obligations. I knew I wanted to support military-connected children and build better programs and policies to support them. However, I wasn’t sure what the vehicle for change would look like until a trip to our base library literally put the answer into my hands.
Shortly after we PCSed, I picked up the recent copy of Military Spouse magazine and began flipping through the pages. I came across an article about a group of military spouses advocating to protect the special education rights of military-connected children. It was honestly like the world stopped; my two passions merged in perfect harmony! I immediately grabbed my computer, pulled up the Partners in PROMISE (PiP) website, and sent a message asking how I could assist with their efforts.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be sitting here today writing this article as a member of the PiP team. PiP has led the charge in advocacy for military children in special education, and in January, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act was signed and contained some of PiP’s initiatives, including special education attorneys for all service branches at no cost to the service member. PiP is forging an exciting path advocating for military children’s educational needs, and we’ve only just begun!
Your Tribe is Your Vibe
After joining PiP, I knew that I wanted to continue to surround myself with a tribe of passionate professionals looking to advocate for military children and their education. One way I achieved this was by joining our local elementary school’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC). Our SAC has addressed many issues, both small and large, and is currently working on a pre-k initiative. With no traditional pre-k programs offered on base or in town, our close-to-school aged children rely on playgroups and lessons at home to prepare for kindergarten. We recently received several responses from our congressional letter-writing campaign and are hopeful for continued momentum with our initiative.
I was also able to grow my tribe exponentially by attending the William and Mary Law Institute of Special Education Advocacy Conference. Erin Mahaffey and Stephanie Knapp are just a few of the extraordinary military spouses in this group making positive changes and supporting and educating military families with children in special education. After the conference, I reached out to Meg Flannagan, a spouse introduced to me a few years ago by a mutual friend. Meg and I reconnected as I reviewed some of her resources and introduced her to several friends having difficulty navigating the special education system. These spouses are helping make changes in special education one family at a time.
A group looking to advocate on a broader scale is Leslie Janaros and Melissa Schumacher, both working to address issues with the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MiC3). I met with the duo when I spoke with them about their group’s experience working with the Texas MiC3. Collectively, they acknowledge that MiC3 is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to military families PCSing with school-aged children. While MiC3 is currently the best opportunity to bring all stakeholders together to improve the transition process, there remains room for improvement. As families utilize the services and supports of the MiC3, Leslie, Melissa, and others have identified several needs that must be addressed to better support families. Creating consistency across states and enforcing oversight and accountability are just a few ways to improve the MiC3 and is something the group continues to work on relentlessly.
As journalist Edmund Lee said, “Surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers.” I have surrounded myself with a tribe of dreamers that uses grit, grace, and gumption to tell the stories of and advocate for our military children’s educational needs. This group of advocates has both a passion and tenacity to create change that is second to none. Our collective voices are becoming louder. With the return of Joining Forces and the recent legislative efforts to help EFMP families, including the newly formed EFMP Coalition, military children are finally getting a seat at the table that is long overdue!
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers.”
Carla Wyrsch – Guest Blogger & Content Creator at Partners in PROMISE
Erin Mahaffey – Special Education Parent Advocate & previous School Psychologist
Stephanie Knapp, CP – Owner and Principal Advocate Advocates in Education, LLC, How to Advocate Like a Boss™ Director
Meg Flanagan, M.Ed – Owner, Educator, Advocate, Meg Flanagan Education Solutions