After many amazing years at North Phoenix Baptist Preschool and Kindergarten, which cared for both of my children from infancy through kindergarten, my daughter Vanessa was ready to leave our safe cocoon and head to elementary school. I began looking for options. Yet, we soon found we had few choices.
We weren’t comfortable with our struggling neighborhood school so we opted to use open enrollment to access a highly-rated district school near our home. This possibility had been in the back of our minds when we purchased our home a decade prior. Of course, then, we didn’t know we would have a child with a disability.
Our neighboring district welcomed our son but not our daughter.
We began looking for other schools for Vanessa. We needed a school that could see past her disability and value her for the sweet, smart, and funny person she is.
After exhausting all our local options, I heard of a great charter school that believed in inclusion. It was far away–14 miles–but worth a shot. So, my husband, daughter, and I piled in the car for yet another school visit. I had learned to keep my expectations low by this point, but this time things were immediately different.
We walked into Canyon Pointe and Principal Rhone greeted us–not just me and my husband, but Vanessa in particular. She crouched down in front of my daughter and welcomed her, saying, “Hello, Vanessa. It’s so nice to meet you. I can’t wait until you come here to school with us.”
My husband and I looked at each other; we knew we had found the right place. She had us at ‘“hello.”
Our relationship with the school was grounded in mutual appreciation and respect from the beginning. With this strong foundation, we were ready to weather the storms that came our way.
And there will always be storms. Therapists quit, behaviors arise, and even pandemics can appear unexpectedly. But from day one, we knew Vanessa was wanted, valued, welcomed, and included at her new school. So when issues arose, we were ready and willing to show grace and to partner with the teachers and school to solve the problems.
It’s a different story, however, when parents have no options or–worse yet–feel a school is only enrolling their child because they are required to do so. In these situations, a family’s relationship with their school is already tenuous. And every issue that arises can further strain the relationship, resulting in disagreements or resentment.
True education choice, on the other hand, can create beautiful and lasting relationships that are ready to navigate the inevitable difficulties that arise. We’ve come a long way toward offering families high-quality choices, but we need to keep working until that’s the default for all students.
About The Authors
Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the founder of Think Inclusion and one of the nation’s foremost thought leaders on education policy and reform. She was recently appointed to serve on the Arizona State Board of Education has decades of experience in state and federal policy. In all her work, Karla channels her professional and personal experiences to passionately advocate for all students, especially those with disabilities.
Think Inclusion partners with public and private sector leaders to build policy and investment agendas that purposefully include students with disabilities and improve outcomes for all students and families.