By Hannah’s Mom, Erin.
I am the parent of a wonderfully gifted, artistic, autistic, and thriving teenage daughter, Hannah. My name is Erin Garrett and I am a Voice for Choice when it comes to Gateway Academy. Before finding Gateway, my daughter attended public school (K-6th grade). I do not know that Hannah ever had an enjoyable day at school, moments maybe. Hannah was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the 5th grade, and while the school and I met to develop her IEP, follow through was anything but a reality.
Hannah continued to get bullied by not only the children, but teachers as well. Hannah received numerous detentions; they were given for turning in homework that was not supposed to be turned in, reading at her desk or drawing after assignments in class were completed, and for ‘constantly’ answering the teacher’s questions without raising her hand…on and on. Hannah had her IQ tested in the 5th grade and she scored 135, but I already knew she was smart, what I also knew was that no matter how smart she was, socially she was struggling.
In 6th grade she had multiple meltdowns due to inconsiderate and borderline cruel treatment by students and teachers alike, both in the classroom and on the playground. It was just non-stop. I would pick her up every day and ask her how her day was. I got so tired of hearing her try to justify why she had a ‘yellow’ or a ‘red’ day. They used colors at the public school to represent the child’s overall behavior for the day. Day after day…it just got to be sad, so I stopped asking and I just knew I had to find another option for Hannah. If they could not or would not follow her IEP, then I would find a school that would.
I reached out to several schools that specialize in the education of children on the spectrum and after many interviews and school tours I found Gateway Academy. What a blessing!! I got to tour the school first and was immediately impressed by the multiple learning platforms utilized by the teachers. Everything from the way the classrooms where set up, the quiet/peace space for the kiddos who might need to decompress, the service dog who was very welcomed in and out of the classroom, to the curriculum itself.
“Mom, I love it here!”
The next step would be to have Hannah attend school at Gateway for 1/2 day to see if the fit for both Hannah and Gateway was a good one. Mind you, every morning while attending her public school, Hannah would complain of being sick to her stomach and we would share tears about having to go. I will never forget the afternoon when I picked her up from her 1/2-day visit at Gateway, she came running up to me, threw her arms around me and said “Mom, I love it here!”. Hannah found a home!! I knew I would be pulling her out of the public-school system, and she would be attending Gateway Academy, and I would make it work. I was introduced to the Arizona Department of Education’s ESA program. I had already invested so many hours into finding out ways to help my daughter, that putting together all the documentation necessary along with her diagnosis, submitting it to see if I could receive financial aid, was work well worth it.
Hannah was accepted and received scholarship monies to attend Gateway Academy. She has attended Gateway Academy for five years and is now going to be a junior! She gets straight A’s, was accepted and pinned in the National Honor Society. She volunteers regularly at Feed My Starving Children, her artistic skills have been utilized by the school as Hannah created the logo for the Parent Organization that was founded last year. But more importantly, Hannah is happy and thriving! She plays guitar, is learning Italian, and has been involved with Special Olympics, all encouraged by Gateway!
When I pick Hannah up now she is excited to tell me about her day and there are no colors attached to behaviors; the teachers at Gateway understand what it takes to teach, mentor and support children on the Autism Spectrum. The student’s differences and individual interests are encouraged and supported. I feel so blessed that Hannah found a school like Gateway. If our children are our future, should not it be a bright and happy one!?
Hannah needed a school where she could feel safe, feel nurtured, and learn, all in an environment where respect for others is cultivated. Hannah knows she is different, but differences are what makes our world beautiful. Gateway allows our children to make mistakes, have melt-downs, as they sometimes struggle with life’s challenges, but it is filled with wonderful teachers and staff that build our kids up! They do not need to struggle alone! Hannah has friends (a group of friends) now, she has had sleep overs and outings with gal pals. I have seen her blossom into a happy teenager! She is looking forward to attending College, something I did not think would happen.
What she has learned at Gateway, over and above the curriculum and fun, is acceptance!! In a time where we could all learn to be more accepting of others who may be different from ourselves, diversity and inclusion is celebrated at Gateway!!
“Diversity is welcomed and the social and educational environment is both inclusive and accepting.”
I love the leadership team and the way they treat the staff and teachers at Gateway. I appreciate the way the children are made to feel special and valued for their individuality. There is positive atmosphere and a growth mindset mentality, that begins with the leadership team and administration. These beliefs are adopted by the amazing teaching staff, who pass that positivity and mindset along to our children. Diversity is welcomed and the social and educational environment is both inclusive and accepting.
Almost no child loves school, but most of the students at Gateway will be able to articulate any number of reasons they love their school. Hannah loves that the teachers are hands on, she loves the fact that the teachers are passionate about what they teach and that when they (the teacher) makes a mistake, they don’t get upset if a student points it out in front of the class (correcting a teacher at her old school often got Hannah sent out of the classroom or she was given a… you guessed it… detention).
There are so many wonderful things to love about Gateway Academy. Gateway Academy is a school of warriors, lead by warriors!!
A child’s education, and a parent’s hope for that child, should not be dependent on whether a family can afford to send their child to a private school. Private schools can be expensive, but they are also necessary, especially for children that do not automatically ‘fit’ the public-school norm. I considered having to take out loans or getting a second job to help pay for my daughter so that she could receive the education she needed, in an environment she deserved. All our children deserve that option and the Empowerment Scholarship makes that possible. It certainly did for my beautiful Hannah, and I am forever grateful!
“A child’s education, and a parent’s hope for that child, should not be dependent on whether a family can afford to send their child to a private school.”
This quote hangs in the main courtyard at Gateway Academy:
“Fate whispers to the warrior,
‘You cannot with stand the storm.’
And the warrior whispers back,
‘I Am the Storm.’