HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: How one Florida teacher is championing personalized education

By: Andrew Campanella

 

 

Drawing on more than a dozen years of experience in the public-school system, Ana Garcia has become an advocate for a cohort of students in her Florida community.

 

by Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner

Ana Garcia doesn’t walk away from a challenge. When her son Kevin’s needs weren’t being met in classroom after classroom, she didn’t give up on finding the right fit. Instead, she created her own educational model, and now she’s using it to help others.

Kevin was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) at a young age.

“He was non-verbal until he was about six years old, with maybe one or two random phrases but nothing of significance in communication,” describes Ana, who worked in Florida public schools for 15 years.  

When Ana became aware that Kevin was not getting the nutrition or supervision she hoped for in the last school he was attending, she realized a big change was in order. She decided to see if homeschooling and behavioral therapy would better meet Kevin’s unique needs.

Soon after making the educational switch, Ana and Kevin’s lives started rapidly changing for the better.

“Within three to six months of having pulled my son out and immersed him fully in homeschool and intense therapy, he caught up on so many milestones,” Ana says. “I just cannot describe it. I did not think we would get here.”  

Ana and her husband took Kevin on excursions to aquariums, zoos, and other places that fed his interest, developing a learning program based on experience.

“We used that as a vehicle to solicit vocalizations and help him understand that there are certain words that function in a way that allow him to get what he needs and wants,” Ana says. “With that, we started seeing a massive reduction in self-injurious behaviors.”

When Ana placed Kevin in a center for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speaking with other parents helped her realize how many of them were desperate for educational resources that met their children’s unique learning needs.

And that’s how Ana found herself educating not just one child, but five!

“It just launched from there,” she says. “They asked me to do them the favor of tutoring their children so that they could place them in ABA primarily through me. Now I supplement the homeschool program for them and, because I have a pedagogical background, I can execute what each child truly needs.”

Ana’s learning program immerses students in real-life experiences, giving them exciting environments in which to develop basic functioning and communication skills and absorb new information.

“Usually children are grouped by age, but the way that I do my grouping is by access to communication, behavior, and academic levels,” she says. “I truly respect Florida standards in that I am looking at those access points that the state has created for children with disabilities.”

To Ana, a low staff-to-student ratio is the key, combined with well-suited educational programming, to ensuring special education needs are met.

Fortunately, she’s stepped up to the plate, providing her cohort of students with much-needed attention that can make a world of difference for their futures.

“Early and continuing intervention has proven statistically to improve children’s academics and behavior,” Ana says, “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 and the child decide to seek mainstream education, they can attend.”

For Ana, her educational cohort must stay small to maintain the individualized attention that makes it so effective.

“It would have to be under ten,” she says, “because the purpose of this is to meet the needs of children who genuinely need one-on-one attention.” She adds, “But I am looking at developing other cohorts, because eventually we want the children to be in pairs or groups of three-to-five children, so that they can integrate into a more inclusive population.”

Ana is a real-life hero, helping Kevin and others rediscover happiness in learning. What a great reminder about the power of education— that it’s not just about facts, but also about empowering children to share their fears, needs, and desires! And what an amazing witness to how school choice can change lives for the better!

 

Read more: 5 Questions with Ana Garcia, home educator extraordinaire

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