Mary Austin Smith
Individualized Education Account Program
When I was 37 weeks pregnant, I received the devastating news that my firstborn, Davidson, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. There were many questions and concerns that flooded my mind at that time. How were we going to help him? Would he speak? Would he run? Would he learn to drive?
Soon after he was born, I had the overwhelming joy of knowing Davidson was fearfully and wonderfully made. Still, I wondered what could we do to help Davidson succeed in a world that now appeared stacked against him.
Almost immediately we learned that there are resources in Memphis and Tennessee that can help parents of children with Down Syndrome. Our biggest goal with Davidson since day one has been to maximize his God-given abilities and not to focus on his “disability.”
Early on, we were encouraged to tour Madonna Learning Center, a school for children and adults with special needs. It didn’t take long before we knew it was the perfect environment that would enable Davidson to thrive and excel in all that he did.
Madonna focuses on “empowering children and adults with special needs,” and focuses as much on appropriate social behavior as cognitive development. This seemed like a great fit for us because we want our son to thrive socially and become as independent as he can with the hopes of one day working and living on his own.
This excellent education has been so helpful to Davidson. We are already seeing it as a gamechanger for our entire family. We have watched our timid little boy transform into a beautiful monarch—the Madonna school mascot—in a very short amount of time. Our son has made so much progress, especially with his speech.
This high-quality education is a costly $14,000 in annual tuition, but what most people do not realize is that the full cost to provide all of the programs is $24,000 per student. This leaves a significant deficit that Madonna Learning Center must make up from other sources in order to further their impact in the community.
In addition, the center serves families of all economic means and in many instances is able to offer tuition assistance to help them.
We applied and were approved to participate in the Individualized Education Account Program, a state-run school choice program in Tennessee for students with disabilities.
This has been a tremendous help in buffering the cost of the tuition at Madonna Learning Center, and we’re grateful to lawmakers who understood that we—and families like ours—may need a boost to get our child the quality education he deserves.
As a native Memphian, I have known about the center since I was young, but I really had no understanding of the amazing gem we have in our city.
Madonna has given us hope for Davidson’s future, which we know is very bright. While it may have taken Davidson longer to walk or talk, we celebrate him and every milestone he accomplishes just as we do our other children.
It is such a blessing and gift to have our Madonna Learning Center family cheering us on every step of the way, and I am so grateful for the Individualized Education Account Program for helping ensure that Davidson reaches his full potential. No child should be excluded from getting the best education they can just because of income. Children with special needs should be able to pursue the best education so that they will be able to excel in all they do in life.