Report From the SPAN Mini-Conference


NJ SPAN held a Mini-Conference on Inclusion was held last Saturday and Bloomfield SEPAC Board Member Ms. Carla Añez was in attendance and has very kindly provided us with this synopsis of the Conference:

The START Project Inclusion Mini Conference:

Moving from Awareness to Action: Are You In?

Saturday: March 21, 2015

SPAN and the START Project were celebrating 10 years of putting together the Inclusion Mini Conference. Myriam Alizo, START Project Coordinator, talked first and reminded us that when it comes to Special Education and Inclusion, the outcome is so much better with parents’ involvement.

Debra Jennings, SPAN’s Executive Director, talked about: Inclusive Education in NJ: Vision for the next ten years. She asked us where we want to be in 10 years in terms of our efforts for special needs students to be with their typical peers. She said Inclusion should be practiced early and often, including the students as early as possible.

She also said we must presume competence, from both the students and the teachers, always set high expectations. Diversity matters and we must move from structures to strategies. The main issue is not where to place our students with special needs, but how to support their education with modifications, accommodations and services.

Mrs. Jennings addressed the importance of parents as leaders. We can make a big difference when we speak up. When we advocate for our kids, we advocate for all children.

Parent Power + Good Teachers = Better Schools

Victoria Alizo presented us with her journey as a student with special needs. She said she doesn’t feel disabled because we all learn in different ways. She’s a self-advocate and attends Montclair State University. She participates in several clubs and activities.

Dianne Malley and Carolyn Hayer talked about their journey as parents. They presented the story of their children, a daughter with Down syndrome and a son with Autism respectively. They explained how others can influence how we think and that we mustn’t allow them to affect our hopes and dreams for our children; we must always focus on their strengths and gifts. as low expectations are a barrier.

They also said something very important – other students are a resource and a support. This is one of the many benefits of Inclusion, typical peers get to know and support our students with special needs. Part of our job as parents is guiding other people to be respectful of our children; as they are included, they are making social connections that will create opportunities. Dream big for your children!

Before the break, Peggy McDonald, Director of Special Education Programs with the NJ OSEP, brought updates mostly about the CCSS and the PARCC testing. Within the Common Core there are Essential Elements which basically accommodate the standards to students with special needs.

The Conference ended with a panel of parents and educators who spoke about Person Centered Transitions.



If you missed a SPAN conference or workshop chances are you can find them archived online at