67 legislators (almost half)

67 legislators are making the grade!

During the 2021 Arkansas legislative session, several bills focused on improving educational opportunities for students and increasing compensation for teachers. We graded legislators on how they voted on education-related legislation and are excited to announce that 67 legislators are making the grade!

See the grades in the document below!

 

TRA_LegislativeReportCard_10_29_2021Draft

Faces of Freedom - Rebecca's family

Faces of Freedom - Rebecca's

As a first grader, Faith dreamed of growing up to be a babysitter. She loved caring for other kids and knew she would want to be around them as an adult. Now, as a fifth grader, Faith dreams of growing up to be a teacher. She still loves caring for kids, but now she has a more defined mission: helping kids learn how to read.

Faith and her two brothers all have dyslexia. So, even before she started school herself, Faith saw the struggle that Billy, who is a year older than she is, went through learning to read.

Billy had been in pre-K for two years before he started school, so Rebecca, his mom, was surprised when his kindergarten teacher reported that he was behind the other students and couldn’t keep up with them. The teacher believed it was due to ADHD, but the Conway Psychological Assessment Center said while he had some characteristics of ADHD, the main problem looked like possible dyslexia.

CPAC referred him back to the district school for dyslexia screening. The district told the family that they did not have anyone to do a dyslexia screening at the school, leaving the parents at a loss for what to do next.

“I was new to this and didn’t know what was going on,” Rebecca said. “My husband and I knew something had to give. He was so behind in reading and writing, and everything we were doing at home was not helping him.”

Rebecca connected with the Arkansas Dyslexia Support Group, which helped her find someone able to do the screening. The result made it evident that Billy is severely dyslexic and has a speech language delay.

The family was relieved that they found some answers, but it still took them from October to May to get him set up with an intervention at the school. He started intervention using the Phonics First reading program during the last two weeks of kindergarten.

They continued with the same intervention through second grade, but he was still not making any progress. By the time he was going into third grade, he was still reading at an early kindergarten level.

Billy’s parents knew something different needed to be done, but they did not agree that the schools’ push to identify him as mentally disabled or put him in a self-contained classroom was the answer. Dyslexia advocate Audie Alumbaugh helped get the correct IQ test for students with dyslexia, and Billy tested in the average-to-above-average area, ruling out the mental disability.

On top of his academic struggles, bullies targeted Billy due to his differences, going so far as to kick out some of his teeth.

Unsurprisingly, both Billy and Faith hated school. Rebecca said getting them up every morning and making them go to school was a struggle. She continued searching for help and found the Succeed Scholarship, a program that provides funding for students with learning disabilities to attend private schools.By this time, Faith had also started school. Rebecca was quick to point out that she showed the same signs of speech delay and dyslexia that her brother had, but there was still a delay in getting her intervention. By the end of first grade, the school was recommending that she be held back.

They applied for the scholarship, and while they waited to hear if they would get it, they went through the admissions process at the Hannah School, which specializes in teaching students with dyslexia.

The process included a shadow day, where students would spend a half day on campus to see if it would be an appropriate fit. On the next day, Billy and Faith popped up out of bed on time for once and were ready to go in record time.

When the car pulled up in front of their normal district school, Billy burst into tears and refused to get out of the car. They had both thought they were going to the new school.

“They knew everyone there was like them,” Rebecca said. “Everyone there had the same issues. No one there would be picking on them or making fun of them for the way they talked. … Just knowing that they were other people out there that didn’t know to read helped.”

Billy and Faith had seen what life could be like in a learning environment dedicated to helping students just like themselves, so finishing the last four weeks at their district school was tough. Thankfully, they both received Succeed Scholarships, and were able to transfer to the new school the following year.

Now, Billy is in sixth grade and Faith is in fifth grade, and Rebecca said both are making tremendous progress with the DuBard Association Method and the Wilson Reading System that are used at the school to help students overcome dyslexia.

On the KTEA, the private school’s version of benchmark testing, Billy is testing on the same level and even above other students his age in some areas. Neither of them could read Bob Books, simple books with three-letter words and patterns, by the time they started at the private school, but now they are reading chapter books with improved fluency and comprehension.

Faith loves school and reading, especially the “Babysitters Club” and “Dork Diaries” books.

– Written by TRA comms director based on interview with Rebecca, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Students with dyslexia learn

Students with dyslexia learn to dream bigger

As a first grader, Faith dreamed of growing up to be a babysitter. She loved caring for other kids and knew she would want to be around them as an adult. Now, as a fifth grader, Faith dreams of growing up to be a teacher. She still loves caring for kids, but now she has a more defined mission: helping kids learn how to read.

Faith and her two brothers all have dyslexia. So, even before she started school herself, Faith saw the struggle that Billy, who is a year older than she is, went through learning to read.

Students with dyslexia learning
At his private school, Billy is surrounded by students like himself. They do not bully or tease him for being different.

Billy had been in pre-K for two years before he started school, so Rebecca, his mom, was surprised when his kindergarten teacher reported that he was behind the other students and couldn’t keep up with them. The teacher believed it was due to ADHD, but the Conway Psychological Assessment Center said while he had some characteristics of ADHD, the main problem looked like possible dyslexia.

CPAC referred him back to the district school for dyslexia screening. The district told the family that they did not have anyone to do a dyslexia screening at the school, leaving the parents at a loss for what to do next.

“I was new to this and didn’t know what was going on,” Rebecca said. “My husband and I knew something had to give. He was so behind in reading and writing, and everything we were doing at home was not helping him.”

Rebecca connected with the Arkansas Dyslexia Support Group, which helped her find someone able to do the screening. The result made it evident that Billy is severely dyslexic and has a speech language delay.

The family was relieved that they found some answers, but it still took them from October to May to get him set up with an intervention at the school. He started intervention using the Phonics First reading program during the last two weeks of kindergarten.

They continued with the same intervention through second grade, but he was still not making any progress. By the time he was going into third grade, he was still reading at an early kindergarten level.

Billy’s parents knew something different needed to be done, but they did not agree that the schools’ push to identify him as mentally disabled or put him in a self-contained classroom was the answer. Dyslexia advocate Audie Alumbaugh helped get the correct IQ test for students with dyslexia, and Billy tested in the average-to-above-average area, ruling out the mental disability.

On top of his academic struggles, bullies targeted Billy due to his differences, going so far as to kick out some of his teeth.

Students with dyslexia learn
Now, Faith dreams of becoming a teacher so she can help kids learn to read!

By this time, Faith had also started school. Rebecca was quick to point out that she showed the same signs of speech delay and dyslexia that her brother had, but there was still a delay in getting her intervention. By the end of first grade, the school was recommending that she be held back.

Unsurprisingly, both Billy and Faith hated school. Rebecca said getting them up every morning and making them go to school was a struggle. She continued searching for help and found the Succeed Scholarship, a program that provides funding for students with learning disabilities to attend private schools.

They applied for the scholarship, and while they waited to hear if they would get it, they went through the admissions process at the Hannah School, which specializes in teaching students with dyslexia.

The process included a shadow day, where students would spend a half day on campus to see if it would be an appropriate fit. On the next day, Billy and Faith popped up out of bed on time for once and were ready to go in record time.

When the car pulled up in front of their normal district school, Billy burst into tears and refused to get out of the car. They had both thought they were going to the new school.

“They knew everyone there was like them,” Rebecca said. “Everyone there had the same issues. No one there would be picking on them or making fun of them for the way they talked. … Just knowing that they were other people out there that didn’t know to read helped.”

Billy and Faith had seen what life could be like in a learning environment dedicated to helping students just like themselves, so finishing the last four weeks at their district school was tough. Thankfully, they both received Succeed Scholarships, and were able to transfer to the new school the following year.

Now, Billy is in sixth grade and Faith is in fifth grade, and Rebecca said both are making tremendous progress with the DuBard Association Method and the Wilson Reading System that are used at the school to help students overcome dyslexia.

On the KTEA, the private school’s version of benchmark testing, Billy is testing on the same level and even above other students his age in some areas. Neither of them could read Bob Books, simple books with three-letter words and patterns, by the time they started at the private school, but now they are reading chapter books with improved fluency and comprehension.

Faith loves school and reading, especially the “Babysitters Club” and “Dork Diaries” books.

Students with dyslexia learning
Grace has learned that having dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a different ability.

Like Faith, Gracie, another Succeed Scholarship student, has dreams of becoming a teacher, but a few years ago, that would never have seemed to be possible.

Gracie’s mom, Jullie, first noticed some signs of dyslexia, like Gracie not picking up on rhyming, during pre-K. Everyone told her it was just due to age, and it would correct itself over time. Gracie struggled in some areas in kindergarten, but it was again attributed to her age. The district school said the gap would close in time.

It didn’t. In first grade, Gracie started regressing, and the harder she tried — and failed — the lower her self-confidence dropped. Eventually, she shut down.

“Gracie left first grade a broken child, made to feel she should know how to do this work but could not,” Jullie said. “She was not getting the help she needed. We call this ‘the nightmare year.’”

The struggles continued into second and third grade, with Alumbaugh helping the family get the appropriate screening. Alumbaugh also helped the family win due process, which is like a courtroom trial between a family and school over a child’s educational rights. This win resulted in changes being made to the reading curriculum at the district school.

“The first four years of Gracie’s schooling were met with hesitation, frustration, defeat, delays and the feeling of helplessness not only for Gracie but for me as well,” Jullie said. “To watch my child being destroyed by a system that says, ‘No child left behind’ was gut wrenching. I will never ever regret fighting for my child’s right to a free appropriate public education. It is not only my child who wins, but every child with dyslexia disabilities who wins. With the correct teaching, curriculum and guidance, disabilities can become abilities.”

By fourth grade, it was clear that Gracie needed a change of environment, and her parents moved her to the same private school that Billy and Faith attend.

“[This] has been the best thing we could have done for our daughter,” Jullie said. “Gracie has worked so hard this past year, and it shows. Gracie is reading, gaining confidence, loves going to school, and her self-esteem is soaring. More importantly, Gracie is thriving.”

The Reform Alliance (TRA), the education nonprofit that administers the Succeed Scholarship on behalf of the state, has heard many stories of students like these getting left behind due to learning differences like dyslexia.

“We would love for all district schools to be equipped and able to help students overcome dyslexia, but sometimes students need a different learning environment or techniques that may not be available in their assigned district,” TRA Managing Director Emmy Henley said.

“That’s why the Succeed Scholarship is so important. It gives students the opportunity to dream bigger and achieve a greater future than anyone originally thought was possible.”

Resources for more info!

  • The Succeed Scholarship is program that provides funding for K-12 students with learning disabilities to attend private schools. It is also available for students in foster care and those from military families. For more information, click here.

  • Would you like to read more stories about students overcoming learning differences? Check out our Faces of Freedom posts!

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October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

October is Learning Disability Awareness Month!

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

October is Learning Disability Awareness Month! So, we are sharing some organizations that provide support services for individuals with learning disabilities. Click the categories below (or the arrows at the end of the row) to see the available resources.

Organization

Organization’s Mission

“Our mission is to provide early intervention to children with special needs so that they may maximize their potential by the time they reach kindergarten. The Allen School will:

  • create and implement an ongoing early intervention plan specifically designed for each child that will ensure appropriate educational placement by the time he or she is kindergarten eligible.
  • empower families with tools to be strong advocates for their child with special needs
  • offer opportunities for interaction with children who have special needs to promote community awareness.”

“The UCP Butterfly Learning Center is committed to providing quality, inclusive preschool services for children of all abilities. Children learn best and become more adept through play-based interaction with children of differing abilities, cultures, and backgrounds.”

“We have a heart for helping children from six weeks to six years with early childhood education as well as serving the adults in our community with disabilities by providing them with continued education, Life skills, & a place with their peers with whom they can socialize.”

“It is our mission to improve the lives of children by providing the highest quality therapeutic, educational, medical and behavioral health services designed to each child’s potential. We believe the participation of family and caregivers in this process is fundamental to empower children to participate in life’s activities. We are committed to the support and growth of our professional team by promoting clinical excellence through continuing education, interdisciplinary teamwork, and community outreach.”

“Developing and enriching the lives of individuals and families through therapy, education and support.”

Organization

Organization’s Mission

“Our mission is to provide early intervention to children with special needs so that they may maximize their potential by the time they reach kindergarten. The Allen School will:

  • create and implement an ongoing early intervention plan specifically designed for each child that will ensure appropriate educational placement by the time he or she is kindergarten eligible.
  • empower families with tools to be strong advocates for their child with special needs
  • offer opportunities for interaction with children who have special needs to promote community awareness.”

“We believe every child has unique God-given gifts that need to be fostered. We further believe that all students are able to learn and thrive in an educational setting. ​It is our desire to accommodate special needs including, but not limited to Autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger’s syndrome; Apraxia of speech; ADD/ADHD; ODD/OCD; Specific learning disabilities; Developmental delays; Emotional and behavioral disorders.”

“To provide exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs have equal opportunities to live, learn, work, and play in their communities.

At the Academy
All belong
All learn
All lead to succeed.”

“Hannah School is Arkansas’s first and only school devoted solely to teaching children with dyslexia. The Hannah School helps students struggling with dyslexia and related learning differences. We offer educational programs for children with language-based learning disabilities that continuously promote success academically and socially — for a lifetime.

*Arkansas has a K-12 scholarship program that provides funding for students with disabilities to be able to attend provide private schools. Click here for more information on this program – the Succeed Scholarship.

Organization

Organization’s Mission

“Expanding Individual Potential Through Innovative Instruction

“The ultimate goal of Civitan Services is to help our clients maximize their potential for independence, and realize accomplishment, personal dignity and success in their lives. Our entire existence is the result of the belief that every individual, regardless of their disability, has choices, goals and dreams. Civitan Services is empowering these individuals to realize their dreams and achieve what they want most out of life.

“Easterseals Arkansas has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives for 75 years. From child development centers to physical rehabilitation and job training for people with disabilities, Easterseals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life’s challenges and achieve personal goals.

“The Mission of First Step, Inc. is to promote integration and independence of all people with disabilities.

“Adam’s Clubhouse provides intellectually and physically disabled, school age children a protective, nurturing and caring environment through after school and summer care programs. Our passion is assisting the families by empowering the parents and guardians the opportunity to focus on their continued employment or educational goals, enabling them to be better providers for their families, or simply allowing them a break as a caregiver. Our commitment to these families is as strong as their commitment to their children. Providing a safe daycare option for these special families is as much of a gift to us as it is a gift to these families.”

“The mission of the AAROC is to provide Hope, Direction & Support to families of individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and we fulfill our mission through activities.”

“Arrows Behavior Therapy and Consulting was created to provide applied behavior analysis service to the northeast Arkansas area. We wanted to create a therapy clinic with christian values for both our employees but also our clients and their families.”

“Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We do this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.”

“Camp Aldersgate creates life-changing experiences for individuals with special needs, enabling them to expand their worlds and express their unique voices.”

“Friendship Community Care is in the business of uniting communities. We empower people to live with dignity, happiness and pride.”

“It is our mission to improve the lives of children by providing the highest quality therapeutic, educational, medical and behavioral health services designed to each child’s potential. We believe the participation of family and caregivers in this process is fundamental to empower children to participate in life’s activities. We are committed to the support and growth of our professional team by promoting clinical excellence through continuing education, interdisciplinary teamwork, and community outreach.”

“Welcome to the Miracle League …. There is nothing like it! When you step into the ballpark, you know that there is something inclusive for everyone, from the barrier free surface made of recycled tires to, thus creating a unique opportunity to challenge, to understand and to correcting misperceptions about individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities. Quickly learning that our players are not much different than yourself they simply go about it differently.”

“Pediatrics Plus is a specialized pediatric healthcare provider. We utilize a unique and innovative blended service model designed to produce the best outcomes for children. Pediatrics Plus operates with a very progressive mindset.”


Faces of Freedom - Antranelia's

Faces of Freedom - Antranelia's son

Faces of Freedom - Antranelia's

I am writing to express my concern about the funding for the Succeed Scholarship. This scholarship provided financial assistance to my son which allowed him to attend the Access Academy School. He has made so much progress since enrolling in 2019.

I am humbly requesting that funding for this scholarship continue to be provided which allows students at the Access School to receive instruction in a smaller group setting that is more conducive for learning.

– Antranelia, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Faces of Freedom - Korey

Faces of Freedom - Korey

Faces of Freedom - Korey

My wife and I found ourselves adopting a special needs child as we are approaching our 60s. By adopting our son, we were able to remove him from an unstable home and keep him out of the foster care system, but the public school system was unable to handle his special needs. He was falling farther behind and growing more frustrating. The Succeed Scholarship has enabled us to not only get Korey the education he needs at Access, but also afford the multiple therapies that he needs to eventually succeed as an individual. The Succeed Scholarship is essential to our ability to raise him well.

– Steve, parent

(This story was also shared in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in more depth. Click here to read the article.)

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Faces of Freedom - Owen

Faces of Freedom - Owen

Faces of Freedom - Owen

It is difficult to put into words just how much the Arkansas Succeed Scholarship has meant to our family. We became recipients of it for the first time this year, and it made it possible for our son, Owen, to not only receive a quality education but also get the one-on-one care that he has needed for so long.

Owen suffers from PANS/PANDAS and has since he was about four years old. This immunocompromising disease means he has symptoms that mimic ASD, Bipolar Disorder, DMDD, Oppositional Defiance, ADHD, as well as ticks and various other behavioral issues in response to illness. His body immediately attacks his brain when it encounters any kind of infection resulting in episodes of extreme irritability, mood swings, aggression, inability to focus, and even memory loss.

For years, we have moved from public school to public school only to have him placed in one ALE program after another. We were repeatedly told that this was our only option besides homeschooling (which is unfortunately not an option for us since both myself and my husband work full-time).

We were also told that because he had missed so much academically in ALE, he would need remediation in all subjects even if he could transition to a regular classroom. We knew that Owen was capable of so much more. We also knew that private schools offered smaller class sizes and sincerely felt that this environment would allow Owen the accommodations he required while giving him a solid education.

Wanting to give him his best possible chance, we sold what we could and took out loans from family members in order to place him in a private school in Bryant. The change was immediate. Owen thrived. He obtained All-A honor roll for the whole year and actually made friends for the first time in his life.

The cost of the tuition though had taken a serious toll on our budget and after two years, we were having to consider putting Owen back in public school despite the fact that this had never been a good environment for him. And then we heard about the Succeed Scholarship.

It truly brings tears to my eyes to think of what this scholarship has given to our family. We were at the end of our financial rope with private school tuition, and this scholarship saved us and our son. Because of the scholarship, our son, who had fallen through the cracks of the educational system was listened to and provided for. Because of this scholarship, he has found a safe learning environment that would not otherwise have been an option for him.

I realize that there is so much pressure on legislators and officials to use state funds effectively. I cannot imagine the weight that must carry for all of those serving our state so selflessly. In regards to this scholarship, please know that words cannot describe how grateful our family (and countless others across the state) is and forever will be. Because of this scholarship, our son is no longer forgotten and hopeless. Because of this scholarship, he is succeeding beyond anything we thought imaginable. Because of this scholarship, we have so much hope for his future. I am immensely proud and thankful to be a resident of a state where even those with extreme challenges are not only considered, but truly cared for. Thank you again for providing this incredible opportunity for families all over Arkansas; it has truly made all the difference.

– Lauren, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!


Faces of Freedom - Brady

Faces of Freedom - Brady

We are so thankful that our son, Brady, is a Succeed Scholarship recipient. He is able to attend Compass Academy, where they are better equipped to help each individual child thrive based on how they learn. Brady enjoys going to school, and they are so passionate about helping each kid be successful at their own pace. We are so thankful that the Succeed Scholarship provides him that opportunity!

– Wendy, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!