McFadden: How families can get help to find, afford the best schools

Alex Sikorski had to deal with bullying and taunts, when he was in middle and elementary school.

Max McFadden

He felt like an outcast.

Sikorski moved to Gateway Academy in Phoenix for his eighth-grade year.

Now, he’s graduating as Valedictorian of Gateway’s 2019 High School Class. Sikorski joined the National Honor Society and excelled at community service while at Gateway Academy, which serves students with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning Autism.

Sikorski is headed to Grand Canyon University. All of Gateway Academy’s students go onto college! Some graduates attend Musicians Institute, Arizona Culinary Institute and Embry Riddle post-secondary programs after graduation.

Many of their students might not be on their positive academic and personal paths without Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Many Arizona families are not aware of ESA’s and how they can help them find and afford the best educational options for their kids.

The Arizona program, which launched in 2011, creates options for families and students that might not otherwise be able to afford a private education.

ESA’s cover 100 percent of education costs for students with Autism. They are essential for many families to be able to afford innovative and creative schools such as Gateway Academy.

Gateway’s annual tuition is $26,800 per year, which allows for the Phoenix school to offer smaller class sizes, and experiential learning for their students. The student-to-teacher ratio at Gateway Academy’s Lower School is 6-to-1. It is 8-to-1 in middle school, and 10-to-1 in high school.

The average class size at larger Arizona public schools can be 25 or even 35 students for one teacher.

Gateway Academy also offers accelerated courses, music programs, a virtual reality lab, equine and speech therapy, a summer social camp, and a customized learning environment for their Twice Exceptional students.

They offer a year-around program, where every 10 weeks, there is a break.

Many public schools have cut back on such programs.

ESA’s pay a percentage of annual education costs for K-12 and preschool students with disabilities. The Education Savings Accounts are also available for Native Americans, active-duty military families, as well as foster kids, and students attending failing or under performing schools.

This program can be a godsend to families and educational opportunities and options for their children.

Approximately 5,000 families currently use Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to find the best educational options for their kids.

Arizona voters nixed a wide expansion of ESA’s in 2018, but the program helping children with disabilities, Native American, active-duty families, foster kids, and students living near failing schools has not gone away!

Students at Gateway are in great twice-exceptional company. They join the likes of Bill Gates, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Dan Aykroyd, Abraham Lincoln, and Satoshi Tajiri (who created Pokémon), who all had Asperger’s syndrome.

The Education Savings Accounts can be essential to families finding the best educational paths for their children.

Not everyone can afford a private school tuition, but thanks to Arizona law and ESA’s anyone can.

Editor’s Note: Max McFadden is director of admissions and outreach at Gateway Academy in Phoenix.

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