Autism Awakening, LLC
My youngest grandson, Weston, has autism. He enrolled at the Hector E. Ponce Academy (HEP) in August when it opened. He just couldn't handle public schools and they couldn't handle him. The school is specifically designed for teenagers like Weston. The teachers make school interesting for them and because they are at varying levels in each subject, they teach from whatever their level. After three months, we noticed a distinct improvement in Weston's conversational skills. Best of all, he is excited about school for the first time ever. We think that by the time he is 21 and would age out of eligibility for public special education funding, he will have a solid shot at possessing the skills to find meaningful work and, at least some, level of independence, maybe even more than some. Traditional public schools can't do, for kids like Weston, what HEP is doing, not yet, so count me an advocate for school choice. It is important for financial reasons. Autism Speaks estimates that lifetime care for a person with autism costs about $1.4 million, more if the person also has a mental disability. Precious few of their parents have that kind of money. The early cohorts have already begun turning 21. Most of them are unemployed or woefully underemployed. Within the next few years, there will be hundreds of thousands of them. Unless they find more opportunities for work, they will quickly become a very large drain on the public purse. A relatively small investment now would pay huge dividends in the future. Even a part time job at minimum wage makes a big difference over the course of a thirtyyear working life. Many of these kids, given the right sort of preparation, have the potential to move into higher skill, higher paying full time jobs with significant advancement opportunities. They can and should become significant contributors to society. HEP intends to provide just that sort of preparation. After only three months, I can attest that they are showing enormous promise. As an affiliate of Autism Awakening, HEP is the pilot for what is intended to be a broad system of schools following a similar model, all devoted to preparing teenagers with autism with the life skills they will need most as adults. With the level of commitment, I see in the initial staff, I believe they will be successful. If they are, they will have produced perhaps the most dramatic positive development in the autism world in the years since Weston was a toddler and we first realized he had Autism. Right now, they need funding. Donors have been very generous, but every student at HEP is entitled to special education funding. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow them to the school, not yet. As such, we will be lobbying vigorously in the current legislature to change that. At the national level, prospects have never been brighter. With an incoming President and a nominated Secretary of Education, both committed to school choice, we have some powerful allies, and as I said, the economics are on our side. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that students who attend private schools, regardless of color, ethnicity, or income level, are far more likely to graduate high school, move into the middle class, stay away from drugs, and run ins with the law, and make significant contributions to society. We believe Weston and his fellow students at Hector E. Ponce Academy are on track to not only graduate high school, but finish with the tools they will need to become productive citizens. We wish them well!