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With an education scholarship account, my child is reaching his full potential.

• Donna Lynn Pellegrini-Lange

One of the worst attacks I hear about school choice programs is that private schools and public charter schools don’t serve students with disabilities.

Why does it irk me so much? Because I send my son to a private school that better meets his needs.

Just like in traditional public schools, not every school offers the services, programs and therapies a student needs. Nor should they be expected to.

In the school district where we live, one school has a specialized program for students with challenging behaviors. Another helps students with autism.

The school we are zoned for wasn’t the right fit for my younger son who has ADHD. Before we moved from Colorado to Arizona, Jeffrey was making progress as a home education student. However, when my husband was injured while serving overseas, we were forced to move to better meet his medical needs.

As a parent, I couldn’t in good conscience send Jeffrey to a school that wasn’t going to help him make the most progress possible. That’s why I applied for Arizona’s Education Scholarship Account program.

The program allowed me to choose North Valley Christian Academy where Jeffrey is currently a freshman. He participates in the school’s  B.E.S.T. program, which specifically supports, encourages and celebrates students with unique abilities.

It’s true that private schools don’t have to comply with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a federal law that mandates how public schools serve students with disabilities. However, many parents will tell you the level and scope of services offered often varies greatly by school and by school district. There are many parents who are happy with the services and supports offered by their local school. My older son attends our locally-zoned public school and it is a great fit for his needs.

For the families struggling to find the best educational fit, an Education Scholarship Account or “ESA” is a lifeline to the customized education their child needs to be successful.

At North Valley, students in the B.E.S.T. program also have individualized plans like students in traditional public schools. However, with the freedom of being a private school, administrators are also able to add in additional goals parents have for their child. If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), does their plan list goals to boost your child’s self-confidence? What about a section to outline emotional well-being goals?

At North Valley, a student’s learning, social and emotional goals are interwoven to create a plan that meets the needs of the whole child. Those goals often incorporate the soft skills that graduates need to be successful in the workforce – like public speaking and other social skills. When I sat down with the school’s psychologist and creator of the B.E.S.T. program, we were able to create a plan for Jeffrey that I am sure will lead to his continue growth academically and socially.

Learning about the school’s approach and working on Jeffrey’s plan encouraged me to join the school’s team working with students with unique abilities.

In my job, I get to help students reach higher and farther than they have ever dreamed possible. For many students in the program, advanced courses and even college are on the horizon.

Not every private school excels at serving students with unique abilities.

However, when parents are equipped with the resources to choose the best school for their child, students are one step closer to reaching their fullest potential.

About the author

Donna Lynn Pellegrini-Lange

Donna Lynn Pellegrini-Lange and her husband Roger recently celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary. In addition to teaching part time at North Valley Christian Academy, Donna Lynn is also a caregiver to Roger and their two sons – Eddie and Jeffrey. You can follow Donna Lynn’s parenting adventures on Instagram at @PellegriniBoys.