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Children learn ABCs at Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School preschool on March 14, 2017. Photo by David Calvert.

By Michael and Cristin Balsamo

As parents, what we want for our kids is no different from other families. We want our children to be happy and loved, to grow and learn, to flourish in all areas, to have opportunities and choices available to them that open future doors.

For years, we struggled to find the right school for our oldest son, who has autism. He was high-functioning and academically very bright but was socially and emotionally behind. This created many challenges, including finding a school that could give him the personal attention he needed as well as meet his needs academically.

He shuffled through five different schools – every single option we had available to us in the Clark County School District – and we also tried homeschooling. Sadly, none of these things met his needs. The district’s teachers were not equipped to work with our autistic child. And in larger classrooms, he wasn’t getting anywhere near the one-on-one attention he needed.

Our son came to hate going to school. We would have to beg him to go. And no wonder. He was not learning or receiving the needed guidance and encouragement. Seeing him struggle like that was heartbreaking. It took a toll on our entire family.

Finally, by utilizing Opportunity Scholarship funds, we had the keys to open new doors.

We found a school that was different — smaller classes, less transitioning and unstructured periods, more one-on-one time. The school was willing and able to teach children both traditionally and non-traditionally, through more hands-on and visual lessons, both inside the classroom and out.

We could not be more pleased with the progress our son has made in two years at Far West Academy. Now he can’t wait to go to school every day to see his friends and teachers. He is a completely different boy than before.

School choice was a life saver for us. It empowered us as parents to guide and direct our child, so he could be successful in school and after graduation. If we were to lose the Opportunity Scholarship money, the doors would once again close. We would go back to having no good options.

Nevada lawmakers, please continue the $20 million in funding for Opportunity Scholarships. Without it our child simply could not function in the school district. And think of all the other parents who are in the same boat as us. We are grateful for the program, and it has truly made a difference in our lives.

Michael and Cristin Balsamo are parents living in the Clark County School District.

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