Editor’s note: This first-person essay from Pennsylvania mother and founder of Pennsylvania Families for Education Choice Sharon Sedlar was adapted from the American Federation for Children’s Voices for Choice website.
In kindergarten and first grade, our daughter Virginia was energetic, fearless, quick-witted, and smart. But in second grade, something changed.
At six weeks into the school year, what started as dragging her feet in the morning quickly transitioned to stomach aches, nightmares, and nights of lost sleep. We suspected that the issue was rooted in the relationship (or lack of it) with her teacher, but our request for a classroom transfer was outright denied. A Student Accommodation Plan was presented as our only option.
While the SAP seemed to help somewhat in getting her to school on a daily basis, the increase in emotional needs at home was noticeable, especially on weeknights when she knew the school day was to come – sleeping in Mom’s bed, nightmares, fear of going to sleep, and many more tears and physical manifestations of anxiety.
The SAP needs increased, and in-district art therapy was provided. Soon the Christmas holiday thankfully came upon us and Virginia was able to unwind, relax and rejuvenate; but sadly, her improvement was short-lived.
Virginia’s symptoms worsened – calling us to come to school to calm her or begging us to bring her home. She even had taken to bringing a necklace with a picture of her family so she could be “close”. The school became impatient with Virginia and her needs and insisted that the plan be changed. I regrettably agreed to a stricter approach. It only made things worse.
One morning in April, after seven months of hard work on her part, Virginia stubbornly, fearfully, and tearfully told me “I just can’t go Mommy. Please don’t make me go there,” and she wouldn’t budge. The range of emotions on this child’s face was heartbreaking – she was crumbling right before my eyes.
This was the end of our public district school journey. I pulled Virginia out and enrolled her in a cyber charter school within days.
Fast forward to now – four years later – and Virginia still contends with profound after-effects from her experience; but the 504 plan she was able to obtain through her cyber charter school allows her the safety and security she has come to desperately need.
Virginia’s story is just one of the reasons that I founded Pennsylvania Families for Education Choice. I believe no child should have to suffer in an environment that isn’t right for them. Now I fight for all children in my state to have education choice.
The current education system fails children every single day – emotionally, physically, psychologically, environmentally, and academically. For some of us, we never know how important education choice is until it touches our family. Education choice, for the children of today and tomorrow, is a necessary pursuit we must all undertake.
Parents are the best qualified to make education decisions for their children. We are there when they are hurt, scared, discouraged, or distressed. We are also there when they are happy, energetic, fulfilled, secure, and healthy.
We know what works for our family and individual children.
Children are unique and special. They have preferences and needs, strengths and weaknesses. We parents build our lives around our children, and we freely make a myriad of decisions on a daily basis on their behalf. Education should be no different. We should have education options to suit, and as diverse as, every child – so that they can be successful.
Children’s educational lives are short, and we have no time to waste. We should not be asked to “hang in there” while the education system continues to fail our children and limits their choices to succeed based on financial status or zip code.
Our children’s barriers must be demolished – now. It’s time for the adults to step up and put them in the center of the conversation and remake education around them.