PROGRAM — Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program

By Hannah’s Mom.

Hannah is diagnosed with Apraxia, which is a significant communication disorder, cognitive delay, and significant learning disabilities, all of which have been caused by a medical condition that causes brain inflammation called Basil Ganglia Encephalopathy (otherwise known as PANDAS).

Hannah is currently 13 years old and has attended St. Rita’s School for the Deaf, which is located in Cincinnati, Ohio for five years. For over 25 years, St. Rita has had a program called “Sign and Say”, which was founded by an angel on Earth named Ellen Brigger. This program is the only education program designed to address the specific needs of children who battle Apraxia, as well as other neurological language disorders, in the United States.

What makes St Rita’s so very special for a child with Apraxia, is the fact that the curriculum is focused on language based learning, and each child at St. Rita also uses sign language. It is a place where every child has a voice, whether they can make sounds with their mouth or not. Sign language is an also especially effective tool for children like Hannah, who tend to be kinetic learners (as opposed to auditory, or visual learners). Sign language provides an additional information highway for our kids to be able to receive information into their mind.

Hannah has only five kids in her classroom. It is loosely modeled after a Montessori style, which means she stays with the same teacher for at least three years. She has had the same group of friends move thru the program with her. They are truly understood and known by all of the staff at St. Rita. She does not have to go through major transitions of new staff and friends every year, which helps to significantly reduce anxiety for all students. She is not an odd one out at St. Rita, but one of many who are all overcoming similar challenges. Hannah also receives significantly more speech therapy and occupational therapy at St. Rita’s than she would ever be afforded in any public school.

“I cannot imagine what my life would look like if we did not have St. Rita School for the Deaf available to Hannah.”

Her local public school has been highly critical of my choosing to place Hannah at St. Rita’s. Two years ago I toured their special needs program. I was appalled at what they were offering her.

Hannah would have been in a classroom with 30-35 children. That classroom would be combined with a second classroom, where each child would be placed in a group to work together with 5-6 typical children in it, to do what they called “Project Based Learning”. She would be pulled out to go to a resource room to receive tutoring. That room had 13-15 special needs children in it on one side, and up to 15 English as a second language students on the other side of the room. The only divider was a temporary wall that did not go up to the ceiling.

This school that she would have attended at the time had almost 700 students in 3-4 grade. St. Rita’s has less than 250 students in the entire school, pre-school to age 21. The tuition at St. Rita’s is $37,000 per year. The Jon Peterson Scholarship for Special Needs in Ohio gives us $27,000 toward her education. Catholic Charities helps us with the rest of her tuition.

We are one of the very few families that I know of in the special needs community that not only likes their child’s education program, but LOVES it. The vast majority of families that I know are extremely frustrated, if not anguished by what their child experiences with their education. Our local district would never have sent Hannah to St. Rita’s without a lawsuit. School choice funding has made a perfect education option available to Hannah that we could never have afforded without.

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