Allen American > News
Setting the pace: Local districts taking notice of Plano PTA’s SAGE program
In 2004, parents of Plano ISD children with both special needs and special gifts set out to make their voices heard. Nine years later, their idea is catching on in other districts.
SAGE – or Special and Gifted Education – seeks to unite parents of students in Plano ISD’s special education and gifted and talented programs.
The two groups were united not only by a similar desire for more inclusion at the campus and PTA level, but a shared difficulty in spreading their message outside of the traditional lines of communication, said Teri Kachur, former SAGE chair.
“They were looking to connect with other families with special needs so that they could share their ideas,” she said, adding that the program attracted more than 500 parents in its first year. “But more often than not, they just wanted to be a part of what was going on in the campus.”
Today, SAGE offers several resources and programs, including workshops on topics ranging from advocacy to bullying. Through SAGE, parents can also find out more about resources for special needs and gifted students.
SAGE’s biggest event is the Summer Expo, which last weekend brought representatives from 65 different camps for gifted and/or special needs students to Plano Senior High to promote specialized summer programs.
“I never imagined, five years ago, that my daughter, with significant special needs, would go away to a sleep-away camp,” Kachur said. “… This will be her fifth or sixth summer going to sleep-away camp, and she loves it.”
Following Plano’s lead, PTAs in Frisco, Richardson and Allen ISDs have also adopted the SAGE model.
Cindy Badon, a mother of both a gifted student and a special needs student, heads up the Frisco SAGE program. In addition to small resource fairs, the group holds Diverse Abilities, an event which allows students from the general student population to learn more about disabilities.
“We felt like [Plano] had something really good going,” Badon said. “They kind of seamlessly blended the two populations ... There’s some overlap, but they can be very different populations, and they each have their needs.”
Plano SAGE’s next event, a talent show held in conjunction with the National Autism Association of North Texas, will be held Feb. 23 at Plano West.
“It just gives them an opportunity to get up and do something they like or they can do well,” said Sandra Colston, last year’s SAGE chair. “I’ve seen kids blow bubbles. Last year there was a [young man in middle school] who has Asperger’s, which is high-functioning autism, and he got up and read a day-in-the-life of what having autism was like.”
Colston said the program has brought about positive change for Plano children, with many school carnivals now providing low-stimulation, low-noise rooms for students who may be easily overwhelmed. Some school dances are now even getting rid of mirror balls, which may cause brain disturbances in epileptic students, she said.
For Michele Mecca, the current SAGE chair, it’s all about connecting parents with the information they need to give their children the best possible school experience.
“Probably one of the biggest thrills for me in this position is meeting parents, like Teri, that will walk over hot coals for their children,” Mecca said. “… That’s definitely been a blessing for me.”