Navigating, let alone comprehending, a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be challenging for families. When it comes to understanding the jargon and creating the best plan for a child with an IEP, Education Team Allies can help.
Education Team Allies was co-founded by Beth Nolan in 2019 with a mission to help parents as they navigate the education system.
“The family’s voice is extremely important in the conversation around their child’s education,” explained Nolan. “And oftentimes, the family doesn’t know where to begin, what resources are available, the questions to ask or how to express their viewpoints. Lifting their voice in those conversations is something that at times needs support, and Education Team Allies provides that support.”
Nolan has a master’s degree in teaching from Johns Hopkins University and is a certified special educator in Maryland. She has been a teacher and a school administrator. After working in education for over 20 years, Nolan now focuses her time on being a family navigator. She is a certified Master IEP Coach and an educational consultant.
“I have held several roles at the IEP table - as a teacher, as an assistant principal, as a parent and now as an IEP coach supporting families. I know how tough it can be for parents,” said Nolan. “The process is complicated. One of the things that I know is that navigating any arena is difficult when it’s not your primary language, as they say.”
One of Education Team Allies' goals is to let families know that they do not have to go through this alone, that it is OK to ask for help.
“In some situations, parents are frustrated because they are not satisfied with the plan that has been developed for their child, but they do not know how to request changes,” Nolan said. “And parents may not know all of the services available that they can request. I can help with that.”
Having been involved in the IEP process on the school’s side of the table, Nolan brings that perspective into the discussion. She said that the school’s IEP team is doing the best they can to provide for the student. However, at times there is a gap between a student’s needs and services provided by the school. Nolan can help bridge that gap with the team.
“We are there to be facilitators and encourage collaboration. We encourage that every voice is heard while keeping the child at the center of the conversations,” said Nolan. “I think that we are able to get further with the school IEP teams, because they see us as constructively adding to the discussion and finding potential solutions rather than someone sitting aside from the team trying to tell them what to do.”
Nolan offers a complimentary 20-minute consultation for first-time families to get to know each other and understand their specific situation and individual needs. After that, she offers hourly consultations or full-service consultations, which include a set number of hours that can be redeemed throughout the school year. Education Team Allies can assist with creating a plan of action for a family prior to an IEP meeting, analyzing an existing IEP, and attending meetings to discuss IEP plans in real time. Nolan’s goal is to level the playing field for all families.
“Just saying to a school, ‘I don’t think this is working,’ is not as effective as figuring out what is not working, why it is not working, hearing what services the child has a right to receive, understanding the school’s perspective and tying all of this together toward finding a potential solution for the child,” said Nolan.
Education Team Allies does not offer legal advice, however, the staff is able to facilitate tough conversations with school administrators and educators about a child’s education.
Nolan said she loves hearing parents say that their students are improving or that her recommendations were adapted into a student’s IEP plan.
“I love being able to make changes with families that help children be more successful, especially when parents tell me, ‘I didn’t even know this was possible.’” said Nolan. “I love watching children have more opportunities because of what we put in place for them. And I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I do every day.”
While Education Team Allies is a relatively new business, Nolan has big plans for its future and for the future of education in the community.
“I think knowing that it's OK to ask for support, whether it be for your child or yourself, is something that I'd really like to be able to help more families do in our community,” said Nolan.