PROGRAM — Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

By Finn’s Mom, Brynn.

I am the parent of an intellectually gifted 17-year-old boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

My now 17-year-old son attended FIVE public schools before we finally found Gateway Academy and my heart breaks for each time he got excited for a new start that promised to be the answer to our problems, only to be another harsh disappointment. But when we found Gateway Academy, everything changed! There, they have small class sizes helmed by very well trained teachers who understand the social/emotional and educational challenges that my child’s set of characteristics responds best.

“He felt heard for the first time.”

Things that my son had been discouraged from doing previously – like asking a lot of questions and really wanting to dig deeper into certain subjects beyond the scope of the lesson – were suddenly encouraged and supported. He felt heard for the first time. My child, whose default in school had been to sit alone reading a book whenever he wasn’t in class, was suddenly socializing and making friends! He had been so busy fortifying walls that he had put up for himself that he really didn’t get a chance to grow until he was in a place that no longer required him to keep up those walls. Watching him flourish since finding the right school has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

I love the individualized attention that my son receives at Gateway Academy. His teachers know him very well and they focus on teaching him how to use his unique set of skills to be successful in life. Every day at school, he engages in activities like yoga and learning how to play music that he wouldn’t have sought out on his own and he has really benefitted from such diverse experiences.

One year, the curriculum included equine therapy, and the joy those sessions brought my son was unprecedented! I really feel like it started him on a career path that will no doubt include working with animals (there is also a wonderful therapy dog on campus!). I also love that my son, who only a year before walked the halls of public school with his head down, ran for and won a position on the Gateway Academy Student Council!

“I love so much about my son’s school, but the foremost thing that I love is seeing his night and day transformation after finally finding it.”

I believe that if you stand in a room full of 20 children, you’ll find 20 different unique learning needs. Some children thrive in environments where they’re encouraged to work with other students, whereas other children shrink from that type of experience. For some children, a large campus with hundreds of other students is exciting and fun, but for others, it’s intimidating and they can get lost in the mix. When a child is in a space that doesn’t meet their needs, they can easily lose (or never even develop) a love of learning.

“…there would be absolutely no way that we could have sent my son to Gateway Academy if not for the Empowerment Scholarship…”

As a parent, being able to choose the schools that allow my children to thrive feels like a very basic right, but unfortunately, it isn’t when factors like cost enter the equation. The very sad truth is that there would be absolutely no way that we could have sent my son to Gateway Academy if not for the Empowerment Scholarship that we were granted to pay for his tuition. I fully believe that without the ESA, my son would either still be walking the halls of public school with his nose in a book or he would be enrolled in an online schooling program, counting the days until graduation without any desire to continue his education beyond high school. Now, because we were able to choose such an amazing school for him, he has friends, confidence in himself, and ambition to go to college, spurred on by his teachers who have taught him to believe in himself.

My son was in the eighth-grade before we found Gateway Academy and up until then, he had never had an actual friend. We had set up playdates for him and he would occasionally come home from school with a story about another student initiating a conversation with him, but he had never developed a bond with anyone outside of our family during all of those years. It was heartbreaking for me as his mom to drop him off every day at school knowing he was in for such a solitary experience. Sometimes I would stay to watch him on the playground and I would end up driving away in tears because he was always alone. But on his third day at Gateway Academy, I picked him up at the end of the day and he said “I think I may have found a friend!” And sure enough, four years later, they’re still best friends! In fact, my son has several friends now and his entire countenance has changed because he is surrounded by people who really understand him.

I shudder to think how different his life (and ours) would have been if we hadn’t been able to choose his school and to have had the resources to pay for it.

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