McDowell Researchers Share Experiences and Perspectives of Parents of Children With Exceptionalities

May 9, 2019

REGINA – For parents of school-aged children with exceptionalities, a child’s day-to-day experience of school can be quite different than what is typically pictured. On May 15, educator and lead researcher Krista McMillen will be leading a roundtable discussion at Arcola Community School, from 7 to 9 p.m., to share her research entitled Parent/Guardian Voices: Experiences and Perspectives of Parents of Children With Exceptionalities.

“Inclusion has been a controversial topic in education for many years,” says McMillen. “Historically, students with exceptionalities have been segregated into separate schools or programs. In recent decades there has been a movement to [create more] inclusive settings. However, many school divisions continue to have … programs or schools which often take the child away from their neighbourhood schools.”

McMillen received a grant from the McDowell Foundation to look at the views of parents and caregivers and their perceived success and challenges with inclusion in school. Speaking to caregivers in both rural and urban settings throughout Saskatchewan, the study looked for success stories and ways in which these successes might be generalized and replicated in other schools to assist both educators and children.

“Parent perception is of considerable importance and can have a dramatic influence on practice,” says McMillen. “Caregivers are the individuals who ultimately have the most potential to influence the education of the child.”

Jennifer Walter, who is a parent of a child with exceptionalities, will be joining McMillen at this discussion. “Having this panel and the opportunity to discuss inclusive education is very important as I believe inclusive education is essential,” says Walter. “Kids with challenges who are included in mainstream classrooms teach us all about acceptance and understanding; they teach us about the value of differences in each other and the unique qualities that each and every one of us bring to life.”

The discussion will focus on the voices and experiences of parents/guardians/caregivers as they advocate for their children in schools, the importance of an inclusive school system and what that looks like, the role of parents as advocates in the education system as well as the value of a strength-based approach. McMillen and Walter will be joined by Alaina Harrison from Inclusion Saskatchewan, Trishia Hastings from the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, and parents of children with exceptionalities Tracy Kosteniuk and Sarah West.

Ellen Whiteman, Manager of the McDowell Foundation, says Salon Series conversations such as these provide a great opportunity for teachers to engage with their communities. 

“The McDowell Foundation hosts Salon Series conversations that highlight the work of our researchers in Saskatchewan communities twice annually,” says Whiteman. “Public education impacts the entire province and is the heart of many of our communities. It’s important that the public know about the significant work teachers are doing, and invite the community to help us create strategies to sustain and spread these classroom innovations.”

To date, the McDowell Foundation has provided approximately $2 million in funding for more than 283 teacher-led research projects for the benefit of Saskatchewan students. For more on the Salon Series, how to access research funding, or ways you can support teacher-led research in the province, please visit