The holiday season is a time for celebrating goodwill, kindness, generosity and, most important, family.
In that spirit, we’re sharing three stories that highlight not just the moral imperative of educational choice, but also some amazing families. Happy holidays, EdChoicers! Enjoy.
The Visser Family
Katherine and Christo Visser and their 10-year-old her son Jordan are veterans of Arizona’s education savings account (ESA) program.
Jordan has a mild form of cerebral palsy. His motor coordination and vision problems impaired his functioning at school. Katherine went through many years of battles with school districts trying to get her son the help he needed—and then the ESA was established in 2011.
“We found that, with the Empowerment Scholarship Account, we have choices on where we can actually take our son,” Katherine said. “There weren’t those opportunities before. With the ESA I have been able to completely customize Jordan’s education to what works best for him.”
With Jordan’s ESA funds, Katherine and Christo are able to utilize a variety of educational options, including a private tutor who has qualifications to assist children with visual and auditory impairments, hippo therapy (horseback riding with a therapeutic purpose), physical therapy, occupational therapy and home schooling materials.
Katherine, who has been repeatedly called to testify on behalf of ESAs, said one of the greatest benefits of the program is that it keeps accountability where it belongs: with the parents.
“[With the ESA] I have the ability to hold anyone—private schools or otherwise—who works with my son accountable because I can make the changes to my child’s educational process immediately, and at any time,” Katherine said.
The Ashton Family
Arizona’s ESA program also played a crucial role for Marc and Lisa Ashton’s son Max, who is now a senior at Brophy College Preparatory Academy.
Brophy is a competitive, four-year private Catholic secondary school for young men. Max is a history major maintaining a 3.92 GPA and is involved in extracurricular activities, such as band (where he is the percussionist), STOMP, drama and wrestling. Max will attend Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in the fall and is making those preparations now.
Max is, by all accounts, an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man, but he was born legally blind and has needs beyond the typical public school student. This is why, when given the option of an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents applied for and were awarded the scholarship.
“The best thing about the ESA is that it gave us a choice,” Marc said. “Without it, it would have been a challenge [to send Max to] a private school like Brophy.”
Max’s parents have used the ESA funds toward his tuition at Brophy, but have also been able to buy equipment for him, such as a talking computer and braille. They have even been able to place remaining funds into a 529 savings plan for Max’s college tuition.
Max is fortunate to have this opportunity. His sister, Allison, like thousands of others, did not. The ESA was not in existence when she was in school.
“If we could give every child the same opportunity that Max has, whether they are blind or just not in the right place or the right school district—why not?” Marc said.
The Deyoung Family
The Gateway Academy is another private school choice option serving children with Asperger’s syndrome that is able to cater to the individual needs of its students—and financial needs of families—thanks to education savings accounts.
Maryann Deyoung is a single mother of two. One of her daughters, Miranda, is an intelligent and sassy teenage girl who struggles with Asperger’s syndrome.
Maryann recounts that she used to have difficulty reaching Miranda, but said this have changed dramatically since they started using their ESA in 2012. With the ESA, Maryann was able to get Miranda the help she needs from Gateway, with educators who specialize in teaching children with Asperger’s.
Maryann said Miranda’s communication skills have improved significantly. Before, Miranda struggled to express her feelings, but now she can explain her needs in a constructive way. Her whole demeanor has changed.
“Every time I go to a parent teacher conference I leave crying because [I am told] my child is a good kid,” Maryann said. “[They tell me] that she’s smart, a leader, helpful, a hard worker, a pleasure to be around, and they adore having her…Every time I leave a parent-teacher conference, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.”