I was discouraged with the public school system in my community. My son, John, has average intelligence as well as ADHD and dyslexia. His mind works differently than his peers. After four years in our local school district, John was making very slow progress. The school was not providing his accommodations regularly. I was desperate for a change.
Beginning the Search
I remember an evening after John was in bed, my husband and I looked at each other and said we have to change schools. I started an internet search to see what schools were nearby – every-single-school. I didn’t care about religious affiliations, public, private, or charter… I was hunting for a better fit. I submitted an inquiry form for every school that was in a 10-mile radius from my house. I didn’t know if I could afford the schools or if any of them had openings. But, for the first time in years, I had hope.
The next day when I checked my email, I was encouraged that some of the inquiries I sent out had already responded to me. I wanted to know if the schools had room for my son and if they could accommodate dyslexia and ADHD. I wanted to learn about financial aid options. My heart was still anxious about the uncertainty of the future. I continued to check my email daily for any clues to help guide me in finding the best place for John. I started reading reviews of different schools. I used social media to “like” schools. I tracked their posts and events. I asked friends and family if they had any recommendations.
Narrowing the Options
Slowly, I was able to cross schools off my list. Some were too expensive. Some didn’t have openings for John’s grade and they put him on a waiting list. I narrowed my search down to three schools and I began the application process. I received a phone call from one of the principals saying John was accepted pending her recommendation. She asked about John’s special needs. As we talked, my heart fell as I realized he would not be able to keep up with the school’s academic rigor. The principal and I agreed that the school would not be a good fit at this time. I was discouraged but hopeful another school would be a better option.
That left two schools on my list. One school was very proactive in recruiting new students. Parents set up a table with information about the school at my local grocery store. A five-minute conversation with the parent-volunteers was another check toward helping me choose a school. I was able to research detailed information about their curriculum and previous students. They were proud of the success they made with students with special needs. In contrast, the other school did not have as much information about its curriculum. I read some reviews that some students with special needs were told that they were “not a good fit” and asked to leave the school if they could not meet the same academic progress as their peers. When I contacted the school to ask about special programs, they did not reply to my phone calls or emails. The choice between the two schools became clear. I found the school for my son. We were “all in.”
Building Community at Every Touchpoint
I submitted all of the application forms in January. My husband and I waited to hear if he was accepted. We both checked and refreshed our email every hour to see if we had a response. Suddenly, we both got the text message. He was in. He made it. We were thrilled!
We checked our email and were given the “next steps.” We were invited to a “new families” event at a local park. We put the event on our family calendar and began the 8-month process of finishing up the school year in public school and preparing John for his new school. Over time we got John’s uniforms and backpack. The school sent us a package every month with a pendant flag, pens, folders, and success stories. John was so excited when we got a package from “his school.” He carried around his flag for weeks.
In May, the school sent a text message link to a highlight film of their high school seniors’ “signing day” event where the seniors reveal which university they will attend. In the video, the stadium was packed full of extended families. The seniors walked across the stage and held up the sign for the university they will attend. The entire stadium erupted in cheers as every senior held up their sign. There were students with visible special needs in the senior class. They were also college-bound. I was crying in my kitchen as I watched this video of a senior class that is 100% college-bound. At that moment, this school gained my trust. I felt like my son would be valued for his abilities, not stigmatized for his disabilities.
As the new school year approached, the school continued to send weekly Facebook publications, emails, and text messages. We attended multiple events and got to meet John’s teachers several times before school started. John was so excited to start his new school.
The Start of a New Chapter
From inquiry through enrollment, it has been an amazing experience. We feel valued and fortunate to have found this school that wants to teach our son. I am so grateful that we took a risk to look for something new. It was worth the stress and uncertainty to find the right school. We can’t wait for him to be a senior – walking across the stadium, making his college determination.
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Sarah Rude is an Implementation Specialist with SchoolAdmin. Prior to working at SchoolAdmin, Sarah was a public school special education reading teacher. It was SchoolAdmin’s mission statement that inspired Sarah to leave public education and join the SchoolAdmin team. She shares the same belief that all children have the ability to change the world and that change starts with education. Sarah lives in Austin with her husband and two sons.
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