PROGRAM — Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program

My grandson is 15 years old and has been at the Academy of Innovation since he was eight. This school is a private school that really helps children who have reading and learning challenges. I am a board member as well as a grandparents of a student.

We have a niche in the market and so many children have trouble reading. A lot of children are dyslexic and don’t know they are dyslexic, or have severe ADHD. They have problems in the classroom or self-esteem is just zero when they get here, because they have tried to read and they just feel like failures because everyone can read around them and they can’t read at all. We have children come that are nine or ten years old and cannot read at all. Ava White, the founder, has these kids reading in 3-4 months. It’s unbelievable.

Grayson had bacterial meningitis when he was 21 months old and almost died. They told us if he lived for nine hours, he might survive. At that time, I was in Richmond, VA, so I got on a flight and got to Georgia as fast as I could. He was very ill. Bacterial meningitis can cause severe complications. You either die, or lose a limb, or are blind, or can’t hear. Grayson actually lost hearing in one ear. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t do anything. He had to do physical therapy and relearn how to do all those things again.

Grayson didn’t seem to have anything cognitive wrong. But they told us we wouldn’t know until he started school. We knew he was hyperactive and had anger management issues. We just thought that was typical kid things, so we put him in a private school so he could get more one-on-one attention. He went to a private school for kindergarten and 1st grade, but they had to pry him out of his seat in the carpool lane because he would not go. His mom would have to get him by 11:00 because he was so disruptive. That was because he knew he didn’t know these things and he felt like a failure.

There’s a specialized program at Emory at that time and we were able to get Grayson in to get tested. They told us he was probably dyslexic and had severe ADHD. At that point, we didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know of any resources in Gainesville, but I knew Ava. So I called her and told her the situation. We brought him to be tested by a psychologist as well. That gave us a good idea of what we were working with. I came with my son and daughter-in-law and Ava talked to us, and that’s when we found out about the school.

This was in 2012, but Ava had started the school in 2007. She started it with some parents through her tutorial service and they needed extra help and didn’t want to go back to public school. She had started with just a couple students and by this time, there were about 20 students. We had Grayson go all summer through her tutorial program and enrolled him in the fall. It’s just been miraculous. We had to get the ADHD under control and that’s the hardest part of what we see parents coming through. Parents have a problem with their children at this age being drugged. It’s a fine line between trying to find the right medication. The normal medication that works for ADHD did not work on Grayson. It had the opposite effect. We finally found someone in Atlanta that specialized in ADHD and dyslexia, which my stepson had gone through when he was nine or 10 years old. That’s how we got Grayson there and working through medication, but it took a couple of years.

Grayson hated school so much, he hated going, because he felt like a failure. This was an eight year old kid. Just unhappy with life. Then, after he came to Aca’s school, at 10 or 11, he was reading at 12th grade level. All due to being in this school and Ava. His parents kept him here but he’s going to try and go to high school next year in the public school, just so he can have the years in the bigger crowd, and to get ready to go to college. He’s interested in computers, in programming. My husband is retired, but he was a consultant for an IT company and he’s worked with Grayson on doing programming. He’s just wonderful now. I could never be more thankful to Ava for him coming here and solving a problem that was getting very severe.

They teach much more at Innovation Academy than just the reading. There’s a big component of getting your self-esteem back and making you feel proud. They do things to make the students feel successful. Those first few years when they come here and have felt so unsuccessful and a failure, they think they are just so stupid. It’s just trying to get their self-esteem back so they feel good about themselves. That’s a big component. Then they start being successful and a lot of them only stay a couple years and are ready to go back to public school or private school, wherever they want to go. We just need to get them here, help them, and some kids like Grayson need to stay. We just felt like it was better for him to stay here. He’s in the 9th grade now and doing well.

We rely on support through the tax credit scholarship and our own scholarship fund, plus SB10 money through the state. A big chunk of the tuition for these students can get paid. The real problem is most of these children’s families can’t afford for them to come here, even for a year or two, so we have to work how we can to get money for scholarships

Grayson is really resilient. We know that he’s always going to have some issues. When you’re dyslexic, you really can’t spell. I tease them and say I can’t spell, I have a master’s degree and can’t spell. My son is the same way and Grayson too. I think it’s genetic! But that is a problem when you’re dyslexic, the spelling doesn’t come easily to you. We just haven’t given up on him.

I think it’s important that families who can’t afford tuition get scholarships because the need is there. It’s so desperately needed. The whole thing about education as I view it, of course I’m not an educator, I’m a banker, but everybody deserves to have a good education in this country. At least in K-12. But if the student can’t read, he or she can’t do anything. That’s so important. It’s amazing to me that kids can get pushed through the system until they finally hit the wall. A lot of times we have parents here and their kids should have been here in 1st grade, not 5th grade. If we can get them at 6 years old, we can give them a good foundation, but if they’re older, it’s so much harder.

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