Blog

Children can defy limitations if schools have resources to nourish them: Benjamin Marcovitz

On Feb. 29, 2012, my wife and I had our first child. When she was about 3 weeks old, doctors told us she would never recognize who we were. She would not walk or talk. In fact, the brain damage she experienced during a surgery gone awry indicated that she would need physical therapy for the rest of her life, simply not to be in persistent pain.

In the years since then, we enveloped her in love and hard work, in therapies ranging from the essential to the fringe. We watched our daughter defy her prognosis, and now that she just celebrated her 4th birthday, she is learning to walk, giggling all the way.

Also in the years since then, our hearts have been hurting. They hurt when we heard our friends dryly complain about how exhausting their kids are when they started to walk. They hurt when the little girl at the Children’s Museum told us our daughter looked “freaky.” But nothing hurts as much as not knowing where, in this city we love, we will ever find a school to educate our daughter. I know that it is difficult for all parents to watch their children walk through the door of a school and into the care of others. But for parents of students with disabilities, it doubly hurts when a school administrator says, “We’d love to help but we simply don’t have the resources,” or, “Well, could she keep up with the curriculum?” or, at best, “Why don’t you bring your daughter by so we can see what she’s like?”

On the other hand, experiences like these have only strengthened my commitment to ensuring that the charter network I founded, Collegiate Academies, welcomes students with special needs with open arms. Almost 20 percent of our students have special needs, and our schools serve a disproportionately high number of students with significant intellectual and physical disabilities and intensive behavioral challenges. For these students, we established a range of specialized services, including a fully-staffed therapeutic program, and Opportunities Academy, a unique post-secondary program with job and life skills training.

The time and resources we’ve dedicated to serving students with special needs have paid off, and I’m proud to say that Collegiate Academies has one of the highest special education graduation rates not only in New Orleans but in the entire state. In fact, other schools from around the country regularly visit to understand how they can better serve their own disadvantaged students. One of the most frequently asked questions we hear from these visitors is, “But how can you afford it?”

The truth is that these special programs simply wouldn’t be possible without the innovative school funding formula used by the Recovery School District, which allocates funds based on the needs of the students enrolled at each school. As a result, when a student with significant physical disabilities enrolls and requires a full-time aide, we can afford to hire someone to support them. Or, when a large influx of English language learners choose our schools, as has happened over the past two years, we can hire the additional teachers and translators needed to ensure they thrive.

Collegiate Academies, along with most of the other charters across the city, are open-enrollment schools committed to serving any child who enrolls, regardless of disability status. We need a funding formula that takes into account the added costs of educating students with the highest needs.

Nevertheless, a few schools with smaller populations of students with special needs seem intent on fighting the new funding formula at all costs, arguing that it’s unfair to shift funds away from them. I might agree with them if you could walk through the hallways of those schools and find students like my daughter. But you can’t. What it took to bring my daughter from a hopeless prognosis to exceeding everyone’s expectations takes special skills and a lot of resources.

I thank the Orleans Parish School Board for unanimously supporting the new school funding plan on Tuesday. We need to support the tireless special educators who look upon a child like my daughter not as a burden, but as the next powerfully successful student in their school, as the reason they chose to teach. We need to direct resources to schools that are striving to provide every child with an excellent education and enact the formula that benefits our city’s children immediately. Our city has done the right thing.

Related Posts

Eric Parrie Teacher Feature 16-17

Eric Parrie, a Social Studies Teacher at George Washington Carver High School, is the third Collegiate Academies’ Teacher Feature for the 2016-2017 school year. Eric is a larger than life character engag…

Victor Jones Teacher Feature 16-17

Victor Jones, English Teacher at George Washington Carver Collegiate, is the second Teacher Feature of the 2016-2017 school year. Victor uses his big personality and bigger vision to support his students…

Leah Lykins Teacher Feature 16-17

Leah Lykins, AP Environmental Science Teacher at Abramson Sci Academy, is the first Teacher Feature of the 2016-2017 school year. Leah empowers her students to engage with their data in deep, meaningful…

Sara Mich Teacher Feature 15-16

Sara Mich, a Sci Academy English Teacher, is the first Teacher Feature of the 2015-2016 school year. Sara’s strong focus on constant personal and scholar growth creates a classroom where students achieve…

Phil Gallia Teacher Feature 15-16

Phil Galia, US History teacher at Carver Collegiate, is the second Teacher Feature of the 2015-2016 school year. In class, Phil supports his scholars in forming and expressing their own opinions, while a…

Ben Ifshin Teacher Feature 15-16

Ben Ifshin, one of Sci Academy’s Biology teachers, is the third and final Teacher Feature of the 2015-2016 school year. Ben Ifshin’s class has a deep empathy for student experience, combining joy with su…

The Season for Gratitude

Our scholars (really, all high school kids) need intense academic preparation to be college-ready. From phonics and pre-Algebra to AP Literature and Calculus, the intellectual work of moving from middle…

What We Can Learn From Singapore

In the past several decades, Singapore has rapidly climbed up the international education totem pole. According to the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Singapore’s schools have developed a reputation…

Scholars’ Families Join the CA Team

This summer, I had the great pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Lakethia Hampton, the aunt of one of the girls on the Sci Academy volleyball team. Having coached volleyball for the past four…

Smart Cities: New Orleans

The first Maker Faire in New Orleans was held over the weened. It was hosted by a new school incubated by 4.0 Schools and New Schools New Orleans (NSNO)– Bricolage Academy. Matt Candler, founder of 4.0…