Both of my children have IEP’s and I homeschool both of them through the ESA program. Jordan is 15 years old and in tenth grade and Skylar is 12 years old and in sixth grade.
We were lucky enough to be one of the first people to actually use an ESA. We were looking for a private school to put Jordan in through the school district, when I found out about the program. We were able to apply and place him in private school.
Jordan’s needs were not being met in the public school setting in our neighborhood. His needs were not being addressed and the school was not addressing my concerns with him. I saw that he should be able to do certain activities like reading. He seemed ready to be reading, but wasn’t. The school was not helping me discover why that wasn’t happening. They were just ready to push him into a lower-functioning class.
Jordan was miserable in that school. When Jordan would get up in the morning, he would start acting out and having panic attacks. I would have to drag him into the car, then out of the car to get him up to the classroom. It’s really hard to take your child every day to a place where his needs aren’t being met. I think his teachers were doing their best to meet his needs, but they didn’t have or weren’t being access to the tools that they needed to be using.
When we were able to switch to the ESA program, the first thing it did was it gave me the power to make decisions for my child. I no longer had to go to a meeting where they would stack 10 people around the table to intimidate me, and then have to ask for changes that I knew weren’t going to happen. I was able to if something wasn’t working, go ahead and make those changes and meet his needs immediately, rather than having to wait a year or more to prove to a judge in a courtroom that he needed different placement.
We had tried private school for a year for Jordan and it didn’t seem like the right fit for him. If I had gone through the public school system to have him privately placed, we would have been stuck going back to the public school system. But since we had the ESA and I had the ability to do something other than pay private school tuition, I was able to customize a program for him. During the course of events, we had found that he was actually legally blind, and that’s why he couldn’t learn to read. I ended up hiring a vision teacher for three years to come to our home in the morning and work with him during the week. Then I was able to use his therapists that he was being provided with through the state, I was able to hire them for extra times a week and we were finally getting progress.
From there, we jumped into the homeschooling community and through that we did P.E., and swim team. He was able to do horse therapy, which has been one of the more effective uses of the funds. It helped build his core strength so that he could actually sit at the table and do his school work. I was able to send him to a speech camp where they worked on social skills through social thinking. With the ESA program, we were able to afford for him to attend this summer camp.
Originally, Jordan had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy; he had been blue at birth and he was developmentally delayed. At the age of 12, after working with the social thinking program and being immersed in the autism community, I realized he also had autism. He had not been diagnosed because he is very friendly and makes eye contact, and he’s very comfortable in a therapeutic setting because he’s spent so much time in a room like that. He didn’t’ appear when they would assess him to have autism, but when they did the ADOS and the screening for autism, it was very clear that we were dealing with autism.
Today, I have a child who loves to learn. He still struggles to read, but we’re working with a reading specialist and he still loves it. I’ve been able to adjust his environment to keep that love of learning going and to provide what he needs for that. He is becoming more independent. We have friends in the homeschool community where he fits and belongs. I have moms in the program tell me how far he has come and they bring other moms with struggling kids to me because of the progress they have seen with him. It gives me a lot of energy to know that I can see a child sitting there and a mom who is frustrated because their child is back to the P.E. class that they’re in. I assure them that sometimes progress for some of our kids just looks different. I tell them to hang in there and keep going because my kid looked just like that, five, six years ago.
One of the things that we have done is boy scouts. He just got promoted to the life scout and is actively working on eagle scout. We have gotten a lot of comments through that group about how much progress he has made since he was a cub scout. He’s gone from not doing anything on his own, not being able to keep up with the kids when he go hiking, but now he can hike with the other kids. He can keep up now.
I’m so thankful for the ESA program because it’s given us a chance to really educate Jordan and watch growth that most people, including myself, didn’t realize would be possible.
Skylar joined ESA as a sibling. She joined the second year that siblings were eligible to join the program. She’s been in the program for almost three years now. I had started to homeschool her because we were struggling with completing work at school, and having all the homework and schoolwork come home each night. We didn’t have much free time because of all the work, so I decided I would bring her home and try working with her at home. After struggling with teaching her myself, I took her back to the school district and taken her to a neuropsychologist as well. She was then diagnosed with ADHD. She was spending all her energy sitting at the desk at school and with not much left to concentrate on her schoolwork and not getting much done. So she was well behaved, but not getting her schoolwork done.
It’s important for siblings to also join ESA. Sometimes the parents find that their child should have an IEP but did not because they functioned just well enough to not be identified as having a special need. Another reason why, when Jordan was in the private school and Skylar was in public school, there was a 45-minute drive between both schools. Because we take the ESA, Jordan was not eligible for transportation and neither was my daughter. The schools started at the same time and there was no before or after school care at either school so one child had to be late every single day. It wasn’t working out. If both kids have ESA, both children could attend the same school or there would be more flexibility to meet the family’s needs.
Skylar struggled with sitting in class and math, but her reading comprehension was high. She was getting bored in school. Now, we can focus on her strengths like reading and writing and language arts. We focus on those but don’t have to focus so heavily on her weaknesses that it becomes drudgery.
I am so grateful for ESA because I’m able to meet her unique needs. She has a six-year span on her ability levels and schoolwork. I am thankful because we can meet her higher needs as well as her lower needs and fit her program to her. I believe every child has unique needs. If they’re in a situation where they are functioning, then that’s fine, but it’s hard on the entire household if their needs are not being met. Whether they’re a typical child or if they have a special need, if the school environment is not fitting them and you’re not getting the best bang for your buck out of the money that the school is spending on your child, then that needs to change.