Associate Professor Terese Aceves found her professional calling when, as an  undergraduate psychology major at UC Berkeley, she participated ‌in an intern program involving pediatric inpatients at a local psychiatric facility. “These kids were not allowed to have access to books, games, artwork, or toys, even when interns worked in the unit,” Aceves says. “They lived in a mostly sterile and cold environment. Seeing that motivated me to explore how kids with special needs are treated, and what professionals can do to provide them with appropriate supports and educational experiences.

After obtaining her master’s degree and general education, special education and resource specialist credentials at LMU, Aceves took a position as a bilingual resource specialist, located in a predominantly low-income community of Los Angeles. Through her experience in the classroom, she became interested in learning more about how to provide additional support for children with disabilities, particularly in the area of reading. She decided to pursue research in that area at UC Santa Barbara, where she completed her doctoral studies.

Recruited in 2004 to join the faculty at the LMU School of Education, Aceves almost immediately became immersed in helping to organize “Education for All,” a major SOE-hosted conference commemorating the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (today known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA). The law required for the first time that all children with disabilities be granted access to a free and appropriate public education. A book based on the conference, coedited by Aceves and Dr. Victoria Graf, professor and director of the LMU
School of Education’s Special Education Program, will be released this spring by Jossey-Bass Publishing.

While at LMU Aceves has embarked on a variety of research projects, all involving linguistically and culturally diverse learners. She has been most active in Response-to-Intervention (RTI) research in schools throughout Los Angeles – looking at the early intervention and identification of children at risk for reading difficulties and ways to improve instructional outcomes for students with disabilities. Her most recent publications include How to Teach English Language Learners: Effective Strategies from Outstanding Educators by Jossey-Bass Publishers and Early Reading Intervention: Strategies and Methods for Struggling Readers by Allyn & Bacon and a special issue of the journal of Theory into Practice on “Critical Issues in Response to Intervention”.

As she began interacting with parents during her doctoral work at UC Santa Barbara, Aceves concluded that she needed to expand her role beyond that of the researcher. When she would enter homes to share with and learn from families’ strategies for reading with their children, inevitably the conversation would turn to the struggles they were having with the special education system. As a result, she has become active in educating families who have children with disabilities, working with two organizations – the Learning Rights Law Center, where she participates in a monthly parent training program known as TIGER (Training Individuals for Grassroots Educational Reform); and the Disability Rights Legal Center, through which Aceves and Graf oversee special education advocacy courses.

This year Aceves has begun to assist the LRLC by opening her office to families who are in need of immediate assistance in understanding their rights and supporting their children with disabilities in the schools. She conducts weekly intakes and works with an attorney from LRLC to determine how best to assist these families to advocate for themselves in the schools. Recently, the School of Education sponsored the Learning Rights Law Center’s first Annual TIGER Townhall meeting. They hosted almost 100 parents and 50 volunteers. Parents and facilitators gathered according to their respective communities to discuss the challenges they experience while trying to support their children with disabilities. In these breakout sessions, groups later brainstormed how they could focus their efforts toward positive and viable solutions. Facilitators included parents from the advanced TIGER group, parent advocates, special education attorneys, school counseling candidates, and an alumni from the administration program. Parents appreciated having the opportunity to express their concerns with professionals who were willing to listen to them and validate their ideas and frustrations.

Aceves is in the process of expanding her research to better understand the needs of Latino families who have children with disabilities, including their understanding of the law and their level of participation and influence within the schools. “We need to help families become their own advocates,” she says. “Too many of them don’t receive the respect they deserve and lack the skills necessary to become legitimate participants in the education of their children.”