Maria Giancotti, M.Ed., Founder of Student Advocacy Michigan
I am a professional Special Education Advocate and founder of Student Advocacy Michigan, which serves clients across the state. My mission is to ensure effective educational plans are implemented for different learners and special needs children while educating and empowering parents to advocate independently.
My background includes a bachelor’s degree in health education and communications from Western Michigan University, in addition to a Master of Education degree from Xavier University in Ohio. I spent many years working as a health and wellness educator and then moving into a sales and marketing career. I never planned on becoming an advocate. It happened when life threw me a curve ball.
Advocacy started for me in 2013 my child was placed on an IEP. This career path grew out of necessity because I had to fight so hard for my own child for years. Like most of you, I didn’t understand what was going on in the IEP meetings and the terms they used. I figured the school staff were experts, so I trusted them. It was working fine at our first school but when we moved back to Michigan from Chicago, everything changed, and my advocacy journey began. Needless to say, we hit some very serious bumps in the road, and I was forced to start learning the laws to protect my child’s rights at school.
I started studying education and civil rights laws independently to try to fight for my son. Later I sought formal training and completed all three COPAA (Counsel of Parents Attorneys and Advocates) trainings in 2020. Now I represent parents at 504, IEP, and disciplinary meetings, and in mediation sessions. My role also includes preparing and filing comprehensive state and federal complaints when needed to resolve legal violations and seek remedies for clients.
I take great care teaching parents about their legal rights in special education and how to advocate for their child. My favorite quote is “you need to learn this because you don’t want to hire me until your child graduates”! I take initiative to meet with state legislators and key education decision makers to address special education problems and present potential solutions, in addition to providing public speaking on special education related topics.
Away from work, my interests include travel, cooking, fitness and going to the beach in the summer. I love spending time at the baseball field at my son’s high school games and travel team tournaments. I reside in the greater Detroit area with my husband Nick, son Jayden, and border collie Baci who sometimes makes unexpected appearances on Zoom calls.
- Bachelor of Science degree Health Education/Communications – Western Michigan University
- Master of Education degree – Xavier University
- COPAA Member (Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates) 2 years
- COPAA Training Programs Completed: Seat 1, Seat 3 (Completing Seat 2 program now)
- 11 years experience advocating for my own child and for friend’s children
- Completed numerous webinars and online videos on IEP, 504 Plans, Special Education & Civil Rights Laws/Regulations
- 20+ years of sales and negotiation experience & public speaking experience
- Strong clinical research and reading in the area of ADD/ADHD and related conditions
- 4 years school fundraising & committee work (PTO President, Vice President, Committee Chair)