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PROGRAM — Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship

My name is Tera Myers and I am the proud mother of three wonderful children: Samuel, Lynsey and Maggie. While all three of my children benefited and took part in lobbying for school choice in our state, it is Samuel that I would like to highlight in our story.

Our family started out in public school and soon realized that one size did not fit all. What my husband and I remembered as quality education was not what we were experiencing with our children. Though we were excited to send our children off to kindergarten, we soon realized that the doors were not wide open for all students, especially for our son Samuel who has Down Syndrome and requires special education.

IDEA requires an Individual Education Plan for all students with special needs, however it seemed that our local public school wanted that plan to suit their program and not our son. The conversations were exhausting and not parent friendly or student centered. We strongly believe that whether it is personality, learning style, or accommodations, parents are the best suited to make the choice when it comes to the education program for their children.

Our local district informed us it was an inconvenience to provide services to our son. Even when appropriate services were available, the district seemed to operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If you didn’t know what was available or how to ask for it, they were not going to accommodate. This was unacceptable to our family. After years of this experience and no end in sight, we decided to look for other options.

Our oldest daughter, Lynsey, was afforded a choice scholarship to attend a private school in our community. Our youngest daughter, Maggie, was thriving in an online virtual school. However, neither of these options were optimum for our son Samuel. Samuel has multiple disabilities having been born with Down Syndrome. And while the diagnosis does not define him or his abilities, it did put limitations on his education options.

The public school had very low expectations and no motivation for educating Samuel. He was also bullied on several occasions with no positive solutions from the school administration. The virtual school was too rigorous with little functional learning for his needs. We needed a tailored program with functional curriculum that was standards based and offered the teaching of life skills.

I found a curriculum that would serve Samuel’s needs, however the public school controlled all the funds that went toward Samuel’s additional resources, such as therapies and extra tutoring. There had to be other options. That is when in a desperate, exhausted state, I made a phone call to School Choice Ohio to see what was available. It was that phone call that changed the direction of our plight and our dreams started becoming a reality.

Thankfully, after years of lobbying by my family and others, the state of Ohio passed the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship. The scholarship afforded choice to provide education freedom for all students in the state of Ohio with a disability. The tax dollars would follow the student to a program best suited to their needs.

This was a huge victory for those of us looking for a quality education for students like Samuel. Samuel wanted to learn, we as a family were here cheering him on and willing to do whatever it took to help him, and now the resources would be available to help us.There remained just one problem, there was no program like this in our area for learners like our son.

In 2011, I went to the private school that our daughter attended and asked them to help us and other families that needed a personalized education for their children with special needs. I presented the idea of the program that I had worked on with other parents of children that needed a functional learning environment. After much prayer and consideration they trusted me with the task of starting such a program. In the school year of 2012-2013, Samuel and 12 other students with special needs were the first to attend the JP program at Mansfield Christian School for an education tailored specifically to their individual needs.

Samuel’s dreams of being able to learn at his own pace and be educated with his peers were becoming a reality! Our family was overwhelmed and blessed by those that came alongside us in this journey, and we knew that there were other families out there just like us. It was our goal that no other family would have to repeat the long painful journey we had just traveled.

Quality education should be available to all children, and if their current situation is not working, then options to choose another should be available. We firmly believe that all hands need to be on deck and we all need to do our part to help make each child successful, however one system for all is not the solution. Education Freedom needs to be a priority for all students. High expectations with rigorous standards and optimum performance needs to be the norm and not the exception. A student cannot be limited by an address, income or diagnosis. Each student should be given the opportunity to succeed. Children are our future and Education Freedom is the door to opportunity. Let’s push that door wide open for all students!

Samuel graduated from high school in 2015 and went on to a community internship. He used his new skills and landed his dream job in his favorite pizza shop in town. Samuel also works each week at the Salvation Army helping pack food boxes for the needy and every Friday Samuel returns to “his school” and works with the cleaning crew to help make the school an inviting place for all who attend. Samuel will soon be starting another job working at an art gallery in town.

Samuel says every day that his dreams are coming true. He has friends, is very active in his community, and is a voice for choice advocate, speaking publicly about his experience and success with education freedom. Our daughter Lynsey graduated in 2014 from high school, and, in 2017, from college. She is currently a full time physical therapy assistant. Our Daughter Maggie graduated from high school in 2017 with a year of college completed and is on track to graduate from college this May as a Radiology Technologist.

Our family is so grateful for all the efforts that have gone into making choice in education a reality. I continue to support education freedom for all students and Samuel and I will continue to share our story  to support other families and students across this great nation.


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