East HAmpton Star

School and Family Connection

By Janis Hewitt

(10/22/2009)    Helene Fallon of Montauk went from being a mother concerned about her own children’s education to being an advocate for special

Helene Fallon of Montauk, who works to improve special education, is seen with Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
education students and children with disabilities around the country.

As a training coordinator for the Long Island Parent Center and a senior trainer for the Model Transition Program, both funded by the New York State Department of Education’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities, Ms. Fallon travels weekly up and down Long Island and upstate to sit on committees and the panels of several advocacy groups.

    “I’m comfortable speaking in front of people. I get my point across and am able to bring the reality of the situation to each panel,” she said.

    She speaks about the connection between school and family and the importance of a “creative agreement,” which is a development team of national trainees that include Ms. Fallon and other professionals, families, and social workers.

    “We’re all about building effective teams between families and schools,” she said, adding, “I consider my best successes to be when a district calls and asks me to come help a family who is struggling.”

    She is in Utah this week to speak at the National Association of State Directors for Special Education. She cites President Barack Obama’s administrative initiative to get people to work together as an important first step. “It’s a tremendous opportunity,” she said last week.

    “People must work together. We must sit at the table together to build policy, not have it created for us,” she added.

    As an orange striped tabby waited at the back door to get in, Ms. Fallon was in her home office surrounded by tons of paperwork, books, folders, technological equipment, and Bobo, her dog.

    She also has an office in downtown Montauk and at the Long Island Advocacy Center, which has offices in Freeport, Lindenhurst, New Hyde Park, and Hauppauge.

    It was just recently, she said, that educators on Long Island realized that the connection between home and school was crucial to a child’s self-esteem and continuing education. She noted that statistics show that 75 percent of the incarcerated prison population has learning disabilities. Of the estimated 512,000 students on Long Island, 64,000 have been classified as special education students.

    “We have to get attention for Long Island and increase funding,” she said, adding that a lot of funding is available but misdirected. She said that recent news stories regarding the high salaries paid to some school superintendents on Long Island deter the state from allocating more money to the Island. “There’s plenty of funding,” she said.

    Ms. Fallon got involved with children with disabilities when a family member was classified as a special education student. Local schools, she said, were not always receptive to her offer to help. But that only motivated her to continue to educate herself by attending training programs and other informative conferences.

    Armed with a master’s degree in social work and education, she has since studied and trained at over 100 training centers and conferences, which she now often leads, across the country.

    In the October issue of the Journal for Advances of School Mental Heath she has two articles published on the importance of mental health, and the family-school collaboration. She will speak as a panelist at a conference in Minnesota in November.

    Earlier this year, she met Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island at a national education conference in Washington, D.C., and proudly displayed a photo of them together. Another photo shows Ms. Fallon and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a leadership conference in August with the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. Ms. Fallon is also part of the national office’s IDEA Partnership that is dedicated to improving the performance of students with disabilities through shared work and learning.

    A year ago, Ms. Fallon founded the Long Island Communities of Practice, which are organizations working as independent agencies in a “unique forum in which stakeholders come together around a shared vision, addressing family education, recreation, exposure to the arts, and support needs.”

    “If someone is willing to share, they’re welcome at the table,” Ms. Fallon said. “It’s as clear as day. Kids do better with parents that are involved.”