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PROGRAM — Education Scholarship Account

By Thomas and Henry’s mom, Leah.

Our oldest son, Thomas, is 10 years old. When he was younger, we were told he should repeat kindergarten. I am a teacher by trade, so I trusted his teacher, no questions asked.

In that second year of kindergarten, around the third week, I told my husband that something was not right. So we had Thomas evaluated and learned that he had severe dyslexia, anxiety, ADD, and speech articulation. We knew that speech was an issue and had been receiving services, but only for speech. It cost us thousands of dollars out of pocket to finally understand what was wrong and get these diagnoses.

“I remember getting the letter in the mail. I cried and cried.”

We went to the school with this information and assumed that we would receive appropriate services and that everything would be fine. But that was not the case.

Despite the doctor’s recommendations that Thomas be taught using the Orton-Gillingham approach, the school said that was not what he needed. They said he would be fine and that Thomas was not the first dyslexic that they had.

During this time, the school gave us no direction. We would walk out of meetings now knowing what to do about our child when he obviously needed extra help. So we started reaching out to different groups and parents and I stumbled upon Empower Mississippi. They are a grassroots movement that helps students with special needs and families like ours.

We learned about the scholarship program for students with dyslexia. But that is extremely limited. For us, the easiest route to another option was through an Education Savings Account (ESA).

However, at that time, no one was providing the service we needed. We ended up hiring an attorney to consult with us and communicate back and forth with the school about services Thomas was entitled to. But his school did not want to identify his dyslexia because then they would have had to provide the appropriate services.

After fighting and insisting that they do what was required, we decided I would go back to school and get my master’s degree so that I could provide the necessary service to my child.

Dyslexia is genetic. My husband is dyslexic. And we knew that our other two children had a chance of being so as well. So I enrolled back in school, even though I never had plans to do so.

Then we asked the district to let me come into Thomas’ classroom and be a provider during the school day so we would not have to spend as many hours after school working on homework. But they turned me down.

Eventually, we felt uncomfortable remaining in that school. We felt we were being retaliated against because we asked for the services Thomas was entitled to.

That’s when we found a local independent school called Bayou Academy. They let me come work with children that needed the services that, by then, I was trained to provide. They were welcoming and wanted what was best for the kids.

We never thought we would put our children in anything other than a public school. But because of this experience, we applied for the ESA. We were put on the waiting list. We decided to move to Bayou Academy anyway.

Within a few months, Thomas was approved for the ESA. I remember getting the letter in the mail. I cried and cried.

Though Thomas got into the ESA program, our second son, Henry, did not. Henry is our middle son and I noticed he had the same red flags that Thomas displayed. Eventually, he was also diagnosed with dyslexia. He was in public school and had an IEP, but it was for speech language, not dyslexia. He too became eligible for the ESA, and was also placed on the waitlist. But he was just approved!

Nobody provides parents with this information. We had to find our own path. So it’s become our mission to help other families by sharing our story. At the end of the day, we are our children’s best advocates. We know what’s best for them to succeed.

If we did not fight for Thomas, he would be another unfortunate statistic. Even at his young age, he was already broken. He had already been retained for one year. His dyslexia was not identified, and that was part of the problem. He was broken emotionally and socially because he did not fit into a certain mold.

It’s three years later and Thomas is finally at a point where he is successful in the classroom. He wants to go to school now and he has friends.

It’s our job as parents to protect and provide for our children. I have a friend, she is a counselor. She said to me, “If this didn’t happen, I would see your son in drug court. Having a choice was the best thing you ever did for your family.”

In any other sector, people have a choice. We should also be able to choose when it comes to our child’s education. And we agree, the opportunity to choose another option for Thomas, and now Henry too, has been the best thing for our family.


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