No matter how you vote, always vote for the children - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

No matter how you vote, always vote for the children

September 23rd, 2018 SanTan Sun News
No matter how you vote, always vote for the children

By O. Robin Sweet, Guest Writer

In November, Arizona voters will decide whether expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program makes sense. It was originally started to help the parents of disabled children, foster children, or active military.

It evolved, with little controversy, to include adopted children, children attending D/F rated schools, and those in Native American communities.

About 5,000 children are now using the scholarships to attend private schools or be home-schooled, if they don’t feel the public-school system is right for their special, unique needs.

This past year, a majority of the Arizona State Legislature decided that there should effectively be no restrictions on the use of these funds, allowing anyone, regardless of circumstance, to use them.  Public school advocates believed this to be a bridge too far and decided to refer the expansion to a public vote in the fall.

I write not to encourage you one way or another on the expansion. That is your vote.

I wish to shine a light on the original intent of the program. I run Gateway Academy in Phoenix. It is private, and one of only five schools in the country that educates a “pure population” of children in grades K-12 with Asperger’s Syndrome.

They come to us, because they may have been bullied or left behind, or really never felt a hug from a classroom.

In many ways we specialize in changing lives, these very, very special lives. We remind them Asperger’s is merely a diagnosis and it does not define who you are, just as it was for Bill Gates, Ralph Nader, Al Gore and many others.

Thanks to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts parents can send their children to our school free of charge, if they feel existing public-school options are not the best or most effective.

We use unconventional means from equine therapy to forming rock bands to motivate and educate our amazing students into productive, wonderful members of our community.

We are pleased to report that in the past several years 100 percent of our graduates have gone onto college, emancipating their dreams and fulfilling those of incredible parents.

There was a young man that came to us after being bullied at his other school.  He’s now a sophomore in high school, building 3D printers for the school.

Then there’s a student, who couldn’t read or write when he came to us, as a fourth grader. He’s now a senior, and, who often leads our morning meetings with the student body, instructing in manners and performing as a musician.

And how about a young African-American woman, who could barely speak during our initial interview?  She has now come out of her shell to become a composer and musician.

Whether Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for more, or all, is now a call for Arizona voters to make.  No matter how the vote goes, it will not impact the state’s existing program for disabled children, and ours with Asperger’s Syndrome.

For the most precious and precarious in our state, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts have already made an incredible difference. Public schools do a great job too, but, for some, our expertise and focus is a better option.

And that’s something we believe is worth celebrating, whether you vote yes, or no, on Nov. 6.

-O. Robin Sweet is executive director/CEO of Gateway Academy