Any time you get to endorse a check, it is a positive. But it was particularly exciting when I was asked to show up at Hope Christian School recently to endorse the first check that will help pay for my son's tuition to attend private school.
Thanks to the new Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program, William, 15, is one of the almost 1,600 students statewide who have qualified for a voucher to transfer from public school to a private school. When we discovered he qualified for $4,028, which would pay a good part of his tuition at the Columbia County school, my husband and I thought we had won the lottery.
William, you see, is developmentally delayed and has attention deficit disorder. His public school experience has been a disaster the past few years. It takes him much longer to learn concepts than other children his age. As a result, he was called "retarded" by his peers. He didn't make friends and dreaded going to school.
William failed most of his classes last year and had to attend summer school. Teachers and administrators said he "caused disruptions" because he would become so frustrated he would walk out of class when he didn't know the answers to questions.
We were at the end of our rope, praying we could find some solution. I even considered taking two jobs if that's what it took to find him another school that could meet his needs.
But now, William's life is turning around. At Hope Christian, we have found real hope. He attends school in much smaller classes. On his first report card, William made As and Bs. Teachers are paying more attention to his needs and aren't just writing him off as a "problem student."
At Hope Christian, students wear uniforms so there is no peer pressure about the latest fashion. Other boys have befriended my son despite his learning disabilities.
Headmaster Ron Burton says there are many children just like William who face challenges with learning and behavior. During this school year, 36 of the 115 students in grades K-12 attending Hope Christian attend school with the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship.
To qualify, a student such as William has to have attended a public school for at least one year and have had an individualized education program. On the Georgia Department of Education website, www.specialedoptions.com, we were able to determine how much of a scholarship our son would earn. Each child's scholarship is based on disability.
Word is just getting out to parents about this school voucher program, which saw an 80 percent surge in participation over its launch last year. I have tried to tell as many of my friends with special needs children about it because these parents often have difficult experiences with public schools.
We were very fearful that William would become a statistic - a dropout or be kicked out of school before earning a high school diploma. But thanks to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship, we believe he is now in a learning environment that meets his needs.
I never saw him with a smile on his face in school when he was in public school, but he smiles most every day at Hope Christian. We are truly blessed.
(Judy Church is a Columbia County resident.)
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