Magazine article Momentum

The Importance of Personal Choice in Choosing Catholic Schools

Magazine article Momentum

The Importance of Personal Choice in Choosing Catholic Schools

Article excerpt

Arizona is national leader in parental choice, first with open enrollment, allowing parents to enroll in neighboring school districts, then with charter schools, tax credit scholarships, empowerment scholarship accounts for special needs and foster students, and now, universal empowerment accounts for all students.

We are Marc and Lisa Ashton. We are parents. We are Catholic school educated. We chose to have our son educated in a Catholic high school. We were able to because of parental choice. This is our story.

Our son Max was born blind. He has a condition called Leber congenital amaurosis. He has no central vision and minimal peripheral vision. He reads braille, uses a white cane and is classified as a special education student. Because of his vision loss, we enrolled Max in our local public school and he was an exceptional student. We knew he was capable of more.

When Max started eighth grade, we decided we wanted him to go to Brophy College Preparatory, a Catholic high school and Arizona's best high school. We knew a Jesuit education and the Jesuit idea of "Men for Others" would be ideal foundations for Max to thrive. Yet, could Brophy serve a special education student? The answer is yes, they can. And they did.

We quickly discovered that as long as Max had the aptitude for the high academic performance Brophy required, they would accommodate what they could for Max. This required our involvement. Brophy was not a school for the blind. Brophy did not have a teacher of the visually impaired. Brophy did not have braille books. Rather, Brophy turned to us, his parents, to help find what Max needed.

Max's freshman year he was on an Arizona Tax Credit Scholarship that only paid Brophy's tuition. We went to the local public school and tapped into their proportionate share of federal IDEA funds, funds the public school received from the federal government for Max because of his vision loss, even though he was not enrolled in public school. We used these funds to pay for Max's braille textbooks and his talking computer software. Now Max had all the tools he needed to access Brophy's curriculum.

By Max's sophomore year, Arizona passed the Empowerment Scholarship Account law that gave us, as parents, 90% of the state funding that would typically go to Max's public school. Arizona deposits the funds over four quarters into a debit card account. For Max's sophomore, junior and senior years, we used it to pay for tuition, braille textbooks, assistive technology, SAT testing and some academic fees. We were responsible for those funds. We had to learn how to access them and use them wisely. We had to be intimately involved with Max's education.

Next, we had to support the educators. Brophy's teachers quickly learned to allow Max to email his homework to them instead of handing in a piece of paper. Teachers began to speak aloud what they were writing on the whiteboards so Max could understand the lessons. Some of Max's teachers confessed that this descriptive teaching benefited some of their sighted students as well. Teachers learned to give Max oral tests or a little more üme on some tests if it was reading intensive. Yes, such accommodations were exceptions and could be disruptive at first, but the teachers quickly warmed to Max and his accommodations. …

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