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Empowerment scholarships alternative in ‘covirtual’ reality


The pandemic and social distancing guidelines have drastically impacted and uprooted our daily lives. Students all over the country had to quickly adapt to online learning to finish up the school year. Now, they face the uncertainty of what the fall semester may bring. This uncertainty can be very stressful for students as many don’t know what the “new normal” in school may look like. For parents who just want the best for their children and for their education, not knowing what the upcoming semester may look like can be unnerving.

For parents of students with multiple disabilities, getting their children on the right path to a quality education in the current pandemic is imperative to their overall success. For students who qualify for the Empowerment Scholarship Account, or ESA, this opportunity can help parents to feel confident knowing that their child will be able to attend the school with the program, services, class size, and instructors necessary to help them excel. ESA makes it possible for parents to customize their student’s education that meets each child’s exclusive needs.

As students with multiple disabilities have unique needs that sometimes cannot be met in a traditional school setting, ESA provides the ability for these students to access the resources to attend a school that is built to meet their individual needs. Considering the uncertainties of COVID-19, many schools are adapting to maintain social distancing standards – these specialized schools are making adjustments to its curriculum and classroom settings that are specifically tailored to suit students with multiple disabilities. With ESA funds, the flexibility to keep students at home and still meet their educational goals is possible. This can be achieved by utilizing therapists and private tutors.

Travis Harris

Travis Harris

Amid the pandemic, a big priority for many parents may be seeking a private school for the purpose of having a smaller class size. With these smaller classes, social distancing standards are able to be upheld easier and more efficiently, as well as the added benefit of students having a quality one-on-one experience with their teacher. Fortunately, Arizona has seen massive growth in the number of private schools that cater to the needs of learners of all abilities. Students deserve the best education catered to their needs despite your income or school district you live in.

Of course, any big decision has a number of pros and cons associated with it. If a parent is considering utilizing ESA for private school education for their child, it’s important to look into a number of various factors before picking their next school. This includes analyzing whether or not the school offers related services, such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and more, or if it comes at an additional fee. These services are just as important as instruction and often support the student’s academic success.

On top of this, parents should consider whether or not the school has specialized equipment, including desks and adaptive seating, to meet the needs of the specific child. This will be a good indicator as to whether the student will be comfortable in their new school environment.

For ESA students at Gompers Private School, we’ve seen success because of our ability to offer up to one hour a month in related services, including speech, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Candice Steel, our assistive technology specialist explains, “Those with complex communication needs tend to be dismissed.” With the help of local partners that support our Assistive Technology Department, we are able to ensure accessibility for all of our students. Assistive technology includes devices and equipment that help enable everyone to communicate. There are endless possibilities for not only learning opportunities but also completing day-to-day tasks independently. These combined efforts help to create an ideal curriculum and environment for students with multiple disabilities to succeed.

With students facing the reality of what the new normal may look like in their next classroom setting, ESA can offer educational security for those who qualify. Since 2011, ESA has made exceptional growth with more than 7,500 students and counting. For parents who want to ensure their children can receive the kind of individualized education and care that they need for the years to come, ESA is an opportunity that can be worth looking into.

Travis Harris is director of special education at Gompers Private School in Phoenix.

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