Special Education Leadership Fellowship (SELF) was created in 2015 to meet a need that its founders saw wasn’t being fulfilled. Schools lacked quality special education programs which resulted in children with learning differences or disabilities behind and alone when it came to their education. SELF believes that all students have potential and that it is up to educators to take responsibility for student success. Aqua Stovall, the executive director, shares, “My high school experience was not pleasant because I did not fit in the usual boxes. Later when I became an educator myself, I made it my personal mission to do everything I can to reach other kids like me–diverse learners.”
Stovall built this organization through the relationships she formed with school leaders, teachers, and funders. Today, because of Stovall and the efforts of the community, SELF is able to move forward with their vision of providing high-quality special education programming in schools where all students are celebrated, treated with dignity, and their strengths are leveraged to empower authentic and individualised learning. How do they do this, you may ask? According to their mission statement, it is by empowering schools to create welcoming and effective communities that enable all students to achieve their fullest potential.
What SELF Provides
Stovall shares all that SELF has to offer stating that, “SELF provides training, coaching, and consulting that goes beyond compliance to effect lasting change at teacher, school, and system-wide levels.”
One thing that SELF offers is the Special Education Leader Fellowship. This program is designed to improve educational programming for students who need it. This is done through a two-year fellowship that offers specialized training, coaching, professional learning communities, peer reviews, and visits to exemplary schools all in the hopes of equipping leaders that will step up and provide all kids with a proper education.
In addition to this Leader Fellowship, SELF also offers Teacher Cohorts and school support and technical assistance. A lot of the goals of SELF is to offer specialized and customizable training and programs to best equip schools and teachers with the tools needed to provide a proper education to all. Teacher Cohorts target the development of instructional strategies and content pedagogy. There are several one-on-one coaching sessions, as well as professional learning communities throughout a school year. These professional learning communities provide a space for teachers to come together to discuss complex problems and come up with potential solutions.
In regards to SELF’s impact on the community, Stovall shares, “We have served 74 percent of our schools in New Orleans, and 83 percent of our partner schools beat the state average for serving students with disabilities on
SELF’s approach to their mission centers around four key things:
1. Technical expertise and leadership skills
2. A shared belief in the potential of all young people
3. Partnerships with colleagues, external organizations, and parents
4. Personal responsibility for student success
In five years, SELF has reached 44 schools and 69 leaders, and on average 85 percent of teachers in SELFie-led schools return each year sharing that the training they received was indeed relevant and worth it.
With eyes on the future, SELF is looking to grow its influences even more. Stovall shares, “SELF is currently expanding our programs nationally with national cohorts and Leader Fellowships. We recently partnered with schools in Los Angeles and Boise to bring customized programs to their schools.” Why do they do this? It is because “children with disabilities or learning differences deserve the right to an education, and we must recognize that that includes teaching and leading differently.”
How to Help
Through the financial support of the community, state, and federal funding, SELF is able to fulfill its mission. People can also help by building awareness of the organization and their mission by referencing SELF programs to community school leaders. At SELF, they believe that inclusion is a necessity and is only obtainable when educators collaborate, get the support they need, and believe in the value of all students.
That is why SELF was founded. If you want more information on this organization, what they do, and where to donate, visit their website at self.nola.org.