Folks, we’re so lucky to work with amazing organizations, advocates and partners in our mission to build peace in New York City and beyond. This is the first article in a series profiling our wonderful peace partners, written by our very own Emily Sernaker, Development and Outreach Officer.A Special Thank You to Advocates for Children’s Ana Espada
By Emily Sernaker
Today we honor Ana Espada, an incredible education advocate! Ana has been providing specialized support and resources to children with disabilities and disciplinary issues since 1988. As a Co-Director and Parent Information Specialist at Advocates for Children, Ana changes students’ lives by helping them address educational challenges.
Advocates for Children’s mission is to protect every child’s right to education. The organization focuses on students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling in school or experiencing school discrimination. When a disciplinary issue emerges or a student with a disability is struggling, parents can reach out to the organization’s hotline for help. From there a specialist, like Ana, meets with the family to advocate for the child and develop a plan.
“Suspensions can mount up,” says Ana. “If you have a kid who keeps getting suspended again and again, you’re not going to see him in science and math… he’s going to fail those classes.” Ana also noted that students with disabilities are often overwhelmed with academic challenges.
In many cases, Ana recommends mediation through New York Peace Institute. New York Peace Institute’s Special Education Mediation Program creates a safe and neutral space to bring parents and educators together to make a plan to get the student back on track.
“Mediation can make a difference,” says Carol Himes, the New York Peace Institute Special Education Coordinator. “Parents and schools meet with the support of a neutral mediator and create a mutually agreeable plan for the student. Mediation can also help parents and schools repair their relationship.”
Mediations are often highly charged. Parents and schools may feel frustrated and the problem in play can be difficult to address. The first session is usually sufficient, but at times it serves as a starting place. Ana appreciates that sometimes the parties benefit from attending multiple mediation sessions, noting that rebuilding trust can take time. Interim agreements can be helpful in allowing the parties to try out potential solutions and to adjust them accordingly.
“I work with New York Peace Institute because they believe in what they’re doing and the process is effective,” says Ana. About 80% of the cases mediated end up reaching an agreement, which is legally binding.
Ana often follows the progress of her clients. She recently shared an email update from a parent regarding one of the students for whom a mediation was conducted. “Thanks again for encouraging me to still pursue my concerns in the mediation,” the parent said. “Now my child and I won’t have to stress about what will happen at the end of the school year.”