Chesapeake, Virginia

Wanda and Jermaine are the parents of three sons who are 14, ten, and seven years old. Their baby daughter recently turned one. Jermaine helps the boys with their homework and volunteers to help with their extracurricular activities. Wanda is involved with the children’s school, advocating for the teachers to stay invested in her children’s future and provide them the learning opportunities as outlined in their Individual Education Plans (IEP).

When their oldest son was in third grade, Wanda and Jermaine noticed he was struggling to learn. Their son was in a class designed for children with learning challenges, but Jermaine still needed to spend much time helping him with his homework assignments. Wanda had heard of Individual Education Plans, but thought they were only for children with severe mental issues. So with their extra help, their oldest son graduated from elementary school.

In middle school, their son’s challenges escalated. He was failing all his major classes, so Wanda and Jermaine hired a tutor. They were also concerned that if their son’s GPA didn’t improve, he would be ineligible to participate in the intramural sports teams he loved, and he’d lose interest in school. The tutor’s assistance didn’t help, and their son was declared ineligible for intramural teams. Wanda appealed to the school board, asking them to help her son.

Initially, Wanda had contacted legal aid concerning Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for her children. The attorney also explained the IEP process. With legal aid’s help, her son began to receive SSI benefits and an IEP plan for him was created and implemented, and he received other resources to help him learn. Wanda said, “The attorney took charge! She even advocated at school for our son. The school said they have never met a lawyer who did that.”

The legal aid attorney also noticed their second son might have a hearing impairment. “As his mother,” Wanda said. “I became used to the way he talked.” They had him tested and learned he was deaf in one ear, and the other ear had a mid-to no-hearing range. Wanda and Jermaine say they’ll be forever grateful to the legal aid attorney who not only advocated for their oldest son’s education, but for also helping them see their other child’s hearing impairment. Their son now wears hearing aids and is thriving. Their oldest son is doing very well in school and is playing sports again.

Wanda’s advice to parents? “You must advocate for your children. The world is so divided with a lot of scary things going on, but keep fighting for your children’s rights.”