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Liz Valdez almost disenrolled her daughter Caitlin from school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The online classes she was in were poorly run. I found myself utilizing my own resources to educate her,” says the New Mexico parent. “Another mom and I would get together on Zoom and play board games with the kids. This was their only means of socialization.”
In addition to being on the Autism Spectrum, Caitlin is non-verbal and is entitled to state services with her IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) until she’s 22 years old, but the Valdez’s experience with emergency remote learning resulted in Liz choosing to graduate Caitlin in 2020.
“Our experience with the abbreviated online schooling was horrible. But I gave the next year a chance, which I was glad about.”
Liz requested a change in teacher with Santa Fe Public Schools, and the new educator was “extremely interactive” and “well prepared” for the online classes.
“This proved to be a good solution. It was a great year,” Liz says.
The following school year in-person classes resumed but Caitlin struggled with the change in routine.
“In the past, the 50 minute commute to school had not been a problem. But it quickly began to be an issue with my daughter… I noticed her health and her behaviors changing. I adjusted her school days. No change. And slowly, she was attending school less and less.”
Liz enrolled Caitlin in New Mexico Destination Career Academy virtual school and she thrived.
“This has been the best choice I could have made,” says Liz. “She looks forward to school, and enjoys the comfort of her own home.”
“She has never been taught about the Constitution of the United States, which was taught early on this year,” Liz continues, and previously didn’t have the opportunity to learn beyond adding and subtracting, now she is learning the value of money.
Liz says Caitlin’s “health and behaviors have all changed for the better. On most days, she’s ready to learn, and ready to sit for her classes. Her therapists are all very prepared and organized and work at her level.”
This option has allowed Caitlin to have the flexibility to shop and socialize in the community during the day. Liz takes Caitlin to the library, stores, and restaurants during lunch and after school.
“At each place she is able to select videos to borrow, shop, and order her own food. I didn’t have this opportunity while she was in a traditional school, and by the time I picked her up from school she was mostly tired.”
Liz advocates in the State Legislature where she hands out literature to legislators and testifies on behalf of medical insurance and Autism issues. She’s shared her story on parent panels at the local community college and within Santa Fe Public Schools.
“Not only do I cry telling my story, but I see a few tears being shed by the audience,” says Liz. “My goal is to share… what works and what doesn’t work with my daughter. It’s not a mold that all fit in.”
Liz is grateful for school freedom and her access to educational options that have allowed her to find instructors who teach Caitlin at her level and for her daughter to learn in an environment that best meets her needs.
“Without school freedom, I would no longer have my daughter in school, getting services that she is entitled to... School freedom has opened my eyes to knowing there really are instructors out there, willing to meet my daughters needs, at her level.”
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