The START Project@SPAN
Meet the START Project Staff
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Myriam Alizo has been working at SPAN since the year 2003 as a Parent Group Specialist under the START Project, helping to develop and support Parent Groups in the area of special education in the counties of Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union. Myriam is also part of the New Jersey Statewide Parent to Parent, covering the northeast of the state.
Myriam sits on the Special Education Parent Advisory Council in her local school district, and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bergen Chapter of ASPEN (Aspergers Syndrome Education Network), and has made presentations in English and Spanish on IDEA, Basic Rights and Parent Professional Collaboration, Parent Involvement in the Special Education Process, Key Changes to the Special Education Law, Engaging Immigrant/LEP Families in School, Ensuring Effective Services to Immigrant &/or LEP/ELL Children & Families, etc.
Prior to working at SPAN, Myriam worked for over three years as a Family Support Coordinator & Parent Trainer in Parent-to-Parent of Miami, Florida, an organization dedicated to assist and advocate for parents and their children with special needs. Myriam has two daughters, and early on became very involved in their education as they struggled with learning difficulties and the complexities of acquiring language skills in a bilingual family/school environment.
Myriam Alizo has a B.S. in Electronic Engineering from Universidad Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, and has been residing in the United States since 1989.
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Karen Antone is the START Project Director. Karen is the parent of a three children, her eldest son Phillip has autism and recently graduated from high school. Phillip was included throughout his education, and is now taking classes at DuCret School of Art and attending the KACH program at Brookdale. Her daughter Kristin was fully included with an IEP until 8th grade, followed by a 504 plan that that she continues to utilize at the University of Rhode Island, where she is on the Dean's List and a member of the National Honor Society.
Karen feels that parental involvement and collaboration at all levels gives our children the greatest gains in education. "The workshops and training I received from SPAN gave me the tools to work with my team to individualize my children's educational plans, and have empowered me to advocate for inclusion and improved programs for children of all abilities."
Karen lives in Middletown, New Jersey where she co-led VOICES/ Middletown Friends of Different Learners, the Special Education Parent Advisory Group(SEPAG) for 7 years. She was also the SPAN Monmouth County Family Resource Specialist for several years, a parent representative for the Monmouth County Children's Inter-Agency Coordinating Council (CIACC), active member of the Monmouth Family Council, member of the Middletown Township School District Parent Information Committee (PIC), and member of Two Rivers Friends of Different Learners. Karen is also a SPAN Resource Parent and a graduate of the Institue for Special Education Advocacy(ISEA) at William and Mary Law School. Karen is currently attending Parents in Policy Making and working on her certificate in non-profit management.
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Stefanie Babits joined SPAN in January 2017 as the Parent Group Specialist, Central Counties. In her role, Stefanie is responsible for providing information, training, technical assistance and support to parents regarding their district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG). She also provides training and workshops on parent involvement in the IEP process, networks with local organizations to support families of children with special education needs, and provides guidance on inclusion and family-centered principles and practices.
Stefanie is the Co-Leader of Old Bridge Township Public School’s SEPAG. She coordinates monthly parent meetings, holds workshop and seminars, and meets monthly with administration to discuss issues and present solutions.
Prior to joining SPAN, Stefanie spent 20 years as a Human Resources professional working across various industries including healthcare, IT, and retail. Stefanie’s background in training, organizational development and employee relations has provided her with the ability to build and foster productive and meaningful professional relationships.
Stefanie holds her BA degree in Human Resources Administration and Spanish from Muhlenberg College. She has 2 children. Her son has special needs.
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Tatsiana DaGrosa is a Parent Group Specialist for the South under the START Project in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties. Tatsiana also works with SPAN at the Parent Training and Information Center and on Parent to Parent project for Southern New Jersey.
Tatsiana is bi-lingual (Russian and English). Born and raised in Minsk, Belarus, Tatsiana moved to the USA in 2002 to continue her education in restaurant and hotel business. She earned her Master's degree in Hospitality Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012.
Tatsiana’s advocacy journey in special education began when for son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 5. Today Tatsiana is an Autism New Jersey Ambassador and a PTO member. Tatsiana also serves on the Regional Family Support Planning Council #9 for Atlantic County. She is a "Partners in Policymaking" Graduate, Class of 2013, from New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Tatsiana believes in strong partnership between families and schools to help all children reach high levels of social and academic achievement. She also believes that all families, schools and communities have something great to offer and learn from each other.
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Debbie Esposito is the Parent Group Specialist for the Southwestern Region. Debbie graduated from Bucknell University with a B.A. in Economics and International Relations. Debbie is
originally from Philadelphia, but has lived in Winslow for over 15 years.
Before coming to SPAN, Debbie worked in her school district as an instructional aide in several special needs classrooms where she learned the importance of parent/professional collaboration to improve student outcomes. To that end, she helped to form, and continues to be active with her district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group. She has taken the SPAN Resource Parent training and understands value of the parent to parent connection (especially for parents with newly diagnosed children) when navigating the special education system.
Debbie believes that we as parents will always be our children’s first and best advocates.
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Brenda L. Figueroa is our Northwest Parent Group Specialist. Brenda is also the Program Coordinator for the NJ Statewide Parent to Parent and the Director of SPAN's Preventing and Addressing Obesity in Children with Special Healthcare Needs Project. She is bilingual (English and Spanish). Brenda is currently the chair of the Elmwood Park SEPAC and a participant in Partners in Policymaking.
In September 2005 she moved to NJ from Aguada, Puerto Rico in order to provide her sons with the opportunity to receive a better education. Brenda has two teenage sons with special needs. Her eldest is in the Autism Spectrum and both her children are currently fully included in their home district. Both her children participate in Special Olympics Sports and in numerous community activities.
Brenda believes in the power of early intervention, inclusion and educated parents. She has successfully advocated for her sons and is currently teaching them to advocate for themselves.
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Monique Dujue Wilson, our Mercer County Parent Group Specialist on the START Project has over twenty-year’s experience in community, education and disability advocacy. She is a results oriented leader with a record of successful collaborations with various stakeholders. Monique is experienced in recruiting, training and motivating with a leadership style that facilitates success.
Monique’s son who has a dual diagnosis, Intellectual Disabilities as well as Mental Health, has successfully advocated for her son navigating through the maze of several systems from Early Intervention, Special Education, Transitioning to Adult life and the Behavioral Health Care Systems. Khary still lives at home, but alternative housing options and long-term planning is now the focus for this young man who is successfully carving out a life in the community; directing his course through “REAL Life Choices”.
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Michele Tyler is the START Project Coordinator and Disproportionality Specialist at the Statewode Parent Advocacy Network. She has been working at SPAN for over 5 years and also has experience facilitating and creating workshops, leading and creating parent groups, and advocating for children with special needs for over 10 years. Michele also worked in the mental health system in New Jersey, which expanded her knowledge of resources and support to families.
Michele attended Queens College as a communications major but once receiving the diagnosis of autism for her youngest son, she redirected her interest and studies to his needs. With a strong belief of equity in education for All children, Michele has advocated for a quality inclusive education for her son and others.