Andrew Campanella: I read an article about how you provide personalized educational plans to meet the needs of a cohort of homeschooled, special education children. How did that come about?
Ana Garcia: It just happened by accident. After I started homeschooling my son and placed him in a center for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), I started communicating with other parents that they had educational choices. It just launched from there… Now I supplement the homeschool program for them and, because I have a pedagogical background, I can execute what each child truly needs.
Andrew Campanella: What do you think the biggest benefit of a program like yours is for students?
Ana: In my program, we can do a very strategic intervention that is prescribed per child to address both the academic and behavioral issues. Then, eventually, should the parent or the child decide to mainstream [school], then can attend. My program is built to narrow the gap for students in the way that the district’s Response to Intervention Program attempts but is unable to accomplish due to their staff-to-student ratios. It’s not rocket science that a human being can’t always address individual situations with so many kids.
Andrew: It seems that sometimes when parents intervene and try to fix a problem their child has at school, they are given excuses about how a problem doesn’t exist or can’t be fixed. Have you found that to be the case as you deal with more families?
Ana: 100% yes. Sadly, many parents are completely oblivious to this occurring. I have three clients for whom I’ve been attempting to be an advocate for their children, and it’s been two years that the district has been ignoring these children. In fact, I had a problem coordinating my son’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), because I was misinformed that his school’s students do not have IEPs generated by the district. It took me a year to get them to understand that homeschoolers are included.
Andrew: Despite the challenges, what inspires you and what are some things you see your students learning?
Ana: Within three to six months of having pulled my son out and immersed him fully in homeschool and intense therapy, my son caught up on so many milestones. My program is structured such that learning is experiential; our mission is to teach through real life experiences. I have another particular child who enjoys animals; he is very close to nature. What we do is we use outside venues to do school, and he is starting to verbalize a lot of his desires. Now he’s starting to communicate in pure fun and recognize language as a symbol of some meaning. He’s able now to use and improve on his pencil grip. He was unable to sit down for more than a minute when he started. We’ve got him built up to five minutes sit down time. That’s really important.
Andrew: The work that you’re doing is incredible. How does the Gardiner Scholarship benefit what you’re doing?
Ana: My goodness, it would not exist if it weren’t for the Gardiner Scholarship. There is a Gardiner Scholarship that allows parents of special education children to retain the services of a specialist and it does cover more than academics. It covers occupational therapy, speech therapy, horse therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. There is so much that we can do with the Gardiner Scholarship for these children. I am sad that it’s not bigger, because so many other children’s lives and families would be blessed by this program. When you look at a child with autistic spectrum disorder, often they really need that ABA more than a quarter of the day, because their behaviors and their developmental delays are significant. We all need to start paying more attention and making sure that we help these children become functional members of society. My intention is to help everyone understand and realize that what we do now can make a huge difference in the lives of these children when they’re adults.