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Chester County Press

Program for families with special-needs children gets national award

07/17/2017 02:11PM ● By J. Chambless

Leah Reider (Director of Special Education) and Shannon Brown (Supervisor of Special Education) presented on U-PRISE at the 2017 Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Annual Conference.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

An innovative program that unites families who have children with special needs got a national award recently, but for the two women who started U-PRISE in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, the main point was to simply help families.

District Administration Magazine honors outstanding programs from school districts around the world, and this year, U-CF was named a “District of Distinction” for the U-PRISE program. The magazine is the most widely read publication for school district leaders nationwide.

U-PRISE is a place for parents or guardians of students with special needs to share information, discuss programs, network with other parents and community resources, collaborate with administrators, ask questions, seek advice, and learn more about special education processes. The program was started this year by Dr. Leah Reider, Director of Special Education, and Shannon Brown, Supervisor of Special Education.

Last week, Brown answered a few questions about U-PRISE and its early success.

Q.: In your work with families who have children with special needs, what were the concerns or complaints you heard most often?

A.: When we informally surveyed the families in U-CF who had children with special needs, they were looking for opportunities to meet one another and network. Additionally, our families were looking for education and information that would support their students with special needs in being successful, not only in school, but in life. U-PRISE was the answer to our community's needs.

When did the idea for U-PRISE begin?

As a relatively new and young administrator, I participated in a wonderful Fellowship Program for Special Education Administrators run by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) under the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). A major component of the fellowship was to research your district to find an area of need and improve upon it. Under the IDEA, school districts are required to meet targets in certain areas. Indicator 8 focuses on the need to increase school-facilitated parent involvement in their child’s special education program.

When Dr. Leah Reider, the Director of Special Education, and I reviewed the Indicator 8 data, positive involvement of parents of students with disabilities within the district, we determined that improvements were needed. Parent involvement outside of IEP meetings was extremely limited.

There was a great deal of research, followed by many planning sessions, which led to discussions with district superintendent Dr. John Sanville about the creation, format, and upkeep of U-PRISE.

The online page is only one facet of U-PRISE, and it serves as a 24-7 resource for families of students with special needs. Our Advisory Committee meets monthly, as does our full membership, where we have various speakers from the community, the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), and U-CF staff present on relevant topics. The webpage is where we keep the archived videos of the speaker series and share information on resources available in the community that have been shared with us.

What support did you receive from the district early on?

We have had an incredible amount of support from UCFSD from the beginning. Dr. Sanville gave us the green light to move forward with the idea of U-PRISE. The School Board was very interested and supportive in learning about, promoting, and having us present at a board meeting following our presentation at the PDE Conference in Hershey this past March.

The backing from our U-CF teachers and administrators who volunteered their time to present at U-PRISE meetings throughout the school year was amazing. The Communications and Technology departments were key in initially setting up our website, recording meetings, and publicizing information relative to the group.

A favorite of parents was the support we received from the Unionville High School National Honor Society students, who volunteered each month to provide free child care to children with disabilities and their siblings during the meetings. Lastly, the U-CF parents who are members of the Advisory Committee worked hard throughout the school year, volunteering their time to plan for meetings, the Community Resources Fair we hosted in May, planning speakers for the 2017-2018 school year, and serving as parent liaisons in each of our six school buildings.

What have parents said about the program so far?

The feedback from parents this year has been overwhelmingly positive. The attendance at meetings grew throughout the year, and views of the recorded meetings were often in the hundreds. Parents have shared that they enjoy the ability to meet and talk with other parents who have children with special needs and are in different points of their educational careers. They also voiced appreciation for providing them with education, resources, and enhanced partnerships with the school district and the community, which was our goal.

How did you apply for the recent award -- or was it a surprise?

Dr. Reider and I receive the District Administration publication regularly, and we read about the national annual recognition program. We thought it would be a fantastic way to promote the launch of U-PRISE, so we applied. Actually being chosen as a recipient of the Districts of Distinction Award for U-PRISE was certainly a surprise! Maybe we will inspire another school district to start their own group with similar goals.

How would you like to see U-PRISE grow?

I would like to see U-PRISE include families of students with special needs across the county. It would be incredibly meaningful to help more families connect and share resources within our greater community to support their students in improved outcomes. This would also lend itself to U-PRISE being able to continue finding relevant and informative speakers in the upcoming years.

For more information, visit

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].