PROGRAM — Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program

By Eyerusalem’s mom, JoAnn.

My husband, Jeff, and I have five children. Our first three children were born during the time we served as missionaries in Nigeria, West Africa. Our other two children were adopted from Ethiopia in 2009 after we had moved back to the US. They are siblings and were nine and 10 years of age when they joined our family. We had no idea what an adventure education would become for us. Having school choice was so important for enabling us to provide an education that met all the individual needs of our children.

“Having school choice was so important for enabling us to provide an education that met all the individual needs of our children.”

We had lived internationally and had a healthy respect for cultural differences and all that could mean. We read books and watched videos before bringing our kids home. We thought we were prepared but even with all that preparation, the transition was intense and lasted for several years. Our kids had to learn a new language, get used a new culture and a new family who they had no history with. There was anger, tantrums and confusion. We were trying so hard but it was exhausting and uncharted territory for us.

In the midst of all these challenges, it was soon apparent that our daughter, Eyerusalem, had big gaps in her previous learning and also had significant academic hurdles. At first, we tried a homeschool option but just were not seeing much progress. I am a trained teacher and could see some of the issues but it just wasn’t working for me to be both mom and teacher to her. We needed to find a learning environment that would accommodate her unique needs. As she was about to enter junior high, we were becoming desperate. We knew time was running out for her. We considered our local public school and a local public charter school but when we visited, the class sizes and environment felt socially and academically overwhelming. Eyerusalem was very shy and hesitant in new situations. Junior high can be brutal in the best of situations. We were afraid she would not thrive in a large, potentially confusing environment where she did not know anyone.

About this time, we found out about a special needs school choice program that would enable us to enroll Eyerus in a small private school near our home. At this school, the classes were smaller and she would be able to attend some small group classes in a resource room. We sat down with the director and planned a truly individualized plan for her education. Her plan included tools for learning English as a second language, and a differentiated curriculum based on the State standards where she learned what her peers were learning but in a way that she could be successful. In the small group classes, she made friends and developed a sincere empathy for other students with learning differences.

This educational experience allowed Eyerus to develop as whole person. Academics did not motivate Eyerus, but interaction with teachers and other students helped her recognize and develop her unique strengths. In the small group environment, she developed confidence and courage. She not only received training in job skills and work attitudes but she also received encouragement to pursue training in an area that she enjoyed which was fashion and cosmetology. The small school environment allowed her to join the girls’ soccer team which she enjoyed and also taught her discipline and how to play on a team. A school choice scholarship allowed Eyerus to attend the school that best matched her unique needs.

After graduating high school, she went on to successfully complete cosmetology school and is now working full time as a licensed cosmetologist. Because of this scholarship, Eyerus was able to attend a school with small group options and strong emotional support to help her through the tough years of adjustment, a school where teachers loved her and encouraged her to follow her dreams.

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