Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas has over 20 years of direct legal experience working in the District of Columbia’s legal services community. She is currently the Executive Director for Advocates for Justice and Education where she has spent over the last eleven years representing hundreds of parents/students in school discipline, special education and other educational matters. She manages all legal services provided to AJE families and its legal programs. In addition, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas provides training on educational matters involving school discipline, special education and other educational rights to parents, youth, school staff and other professionals.
Prior to joining AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas was the Assistant Director for Legal Operations at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP). She began her career at NLSP as a Covington & Burling Howard C. Westwood Fellow where spent over seven years providing free legal services to low-income D.C. residents in the areas of public entitlement, education, employment, social security benefits, housing, family, and consumer law, at the administrative, trial court and appellate levels.
Ms. Hiligh-Thomas is a native Washingtonian and graduate of a District of Columbia public high school. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Tuskegee University and a law degree from the District of Columbia School of Law. She is currently co-chair of the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers and has been reappointed by Mayor Bowser as a parent member of the State Advisory Panel on Special Education. Ms. Hiligh-Thomas is the proud mother of four children who attend a public school in D.C., one of whom has special needs.
Maria Blaeuer is a Staff Attorney who joined AJE in 2016. She has spent most of her legal career in private practice focusing on special education law and the needs of students with disabilities in low-to-moderate income communities. As part of that practice, she has provided professional development and continuing education about special education to attorneys, teachers and other service providers in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
In her current role, Ms. Blaeuer works with schools and families to ensure that students receive the best education possible under the law. She brings a unique perspective to this role, having participated in the IEP and special education process as a student with an IEP herself, as a teacher of students with disabilities, as a parent, and now at AJE, as an attorney for students and families.
She obtained her Bachelor’s degree with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University, earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law and is pursing a Master’s degree in Education Policy. Ms. Blaeuer is a native of the Washington D.C. region, and serves as an appointed member of the Montgomery County, MD Commission on Juvenile Justice, and is on the board of a small charter school serving at-risk and over-age and under-credited students. She is also the proud parent of three children.
Bi-Lingual Educational Support Specialist/Parent Support Worker
Berta Mata joined Advocates for Justice and Education in 2001. She is a mother of four sons, one whom has special needs. In her current role, Mrs. Mata provides one-on-one assistance, training and emotional support to Latino families to ensure their children receive appropriate education and health services. She also leads outreach efforts to immigrant communities to support newly settled families with navigating resources and systems of support. Mrs. Mata has a firm commitment to supporting special needs children and their families. She’s also active in the Latino community including her local church. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading and walking.
Leonard Stevens joined AJE in 2015 as a Youth Advocate. Mr. Stevens is a young adult who participated in AJE’s Transition Advocacy Project (TAP) as a school-age youth. In his current role, Mr. Stevens provides advice to youth with special needs on how to successfully transition from school to adult-life. He also advocates for the needs of young people by participating in stakeholder meetings and communicating with policymakers. Mr. Stevens graduated high school with honors. He is currently enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia seeking a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Foreign Languages.
Patrice Wedderburn is a Staff Attorney who joined AJE in 2015. Prior to joining AJE, she was as Ruff Fellow in the Mental Health division of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Washington and Lee University, a Master of Social Work from Boston College, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. An island girl at heart, Ms. Wedderburn is a longtime D.C. resident who enjoys reading, eating good food and spending quality time in the sun.
Parent Support Worker
Leslie Hatton joined Advocates for Justice and Education in June 2015. She is the proud parent of 5 children. Two of her children are diagnosed with Emotional Disturbance and ADHD. Both were subjected to school pushout. As a Parent Support Worker Leslie uses her personal experience and expertise to support families. She used this expertise and experiences to advocate for systemic change efforts by testifying at DC Council hearings about the need for uniform disciplinary policies and the issue of school pushout affecting students with emotional and behavioral disorders. In her free time she enjoys cooking and spending time with family.