When the traditional public school system pushed her bullied daughter through the cracks, Amanda Lewis turned to ECOT to get her daughter the educational support she needed to succeed.
Amanda Lewis had to console her daughter, Sky, when she’d come home from school crying because she didn’t understand the lesson that day. Sky would beg to stay home, so Amanda called the school to see why her daughter wasn’t getting the help she needed.
“The response I got was, ‘There’s just too many kids in the classroom for us to just focus on your child,’” Amanda says.
Then one day, she received a call from the school nurse saying that Sky was crying uncontrollably and wouldn’t stop. Amanda found out later that Sky had been called up to the front of her classroom, but on her way there, another student stuck out his foot and tripped her — causing her to crash into the metal tray of the chalkboard.
Amanda could hear her daughter crying in the background of the voicemail. Unfortunately, she also heard what the nurse said to her daughter after she thought the call had ended.
“She didn’t realize that she didn’t hang up the phone all the way, so on the voicemail I heard the nurse tell my child to ‘quit being a spoiled little brat,’ ‘quit being a baby,’ ‘there’s nothing wrong,’” Amanda says.
But there was something wrong. Amanda rushed to pick up Sky and took her straight to urgent care, where an x-ray revealed a broken collar bone.
The school claimed it was a “freak accident” because the other student didn’t trip her on purpose. After all, the boy had twitches, and she happened to walk by right as he had a twitch, which tripped her. The boy’s parents even offered to help, but Amanda wanted the school to take responsibility and the nurse to take responsibility for her verbal abuse.
“That was the first big incident with the school,” she says. “We didn’t really have any incidents in first grade, except that she’d get done with her work before anyone else and then be disruptive. Second grade came around, and that’s when the bullying really started.”
Sky got teased by other students in the school. She was already in therapy because her mother and father split up, and she had been diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, severe anxiety and panic attacks. Bullying made it even more difficult for her to focus.
Blaming the Student
“The school said that my child was being defiant and unruly, so they put her in a transitional behavioral school for eight weeks,” Amanda says. “The teacher there agreed with her doctor, who requested that my daughter be put on a 504 plan and put in a smaller classroom, instead of being in a class with 41 students.”
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, schools are prohibited from discriminating against students with disabilities — including learning and attention issues like ADHD. Much like an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 plan outlines the accommodations, modifications and support the school will provide to meet a child’s specific needs and remove barriers to learning.
“But the principal and guidance counselor told me she just needs to suck it up and calm down; they couldn’t make accommodations for her because she’s too smart,” Amanda says. “When they tested her one-on-one, she scored perfect, so she was too smart to be moved to a smaller classroom, because those were for kids who tested low.”
At that point, near the end of second grade, Amanda started exploring alternative options where Sky could get the special attention she needed, without being bullied. She considered moving Sky into another local school system — but she didn’t like what she saw on the west side of Dayton.
“I looked into public schooling around here, and the principals at both of the schools showed concern for my daughter attending, because she would be the only white-Hispanic student in the school,” says Amanda, recalling how her daughter had to walk through a metal detector to even get into one of the schools.
It was actually the principal at her daughter’s former school who suggested ECOT. Upon further evaluation, Amanda realized that her cousin’s children also attend ECOT, so she took Sky to their house to experience an average day in virtual classrooms. They liked what they saw, and Amanda enrolled Sky immediately.
The Difference at ECOT
Sky’s initial testing at ECOT revealed that she was behind for her grade level — even though her school said she was too smart for additional help. So, Sky is involved in ECOT’s LIFT program (Learning Intervention Facilitation Team), which provides struggling students like her with small group services focused on her individual needs.
“My daughter has excelled tremendously in ECOT,” Amanda says. “When she started (in the second semester of second grade), she could only read 26 words a minute. Now she’s up to 158 words a minute in the second semester of third grade. She’s graduating from one tier of mathematics to the next level. It tickles me how far she has come.”
“We have other family members who send their children to private school, and they’re shocked at the math my daughter’s doing that their son hasn’t even started yet. It’s like, ‘She’s already in multiplication and division? He just started subtracting.’”
The personal attention and help that Sky gets from her ECOT teachers is very different than what she experienced at traditional public school.
“Sky’s teachers call every day after class to make sure she understands what they went over,” Amanda says. “If they think that she’s not understanding it, they call me and explain it to me. We’ll all get on the computer together, and they’ll use the webcam and whiteboard to explain it better. Her teacher keeps trying different ways until it clicks. Her old school never made sure she understood it, or went as far as helping me understand it.”
“At first I thought, ‘Maybe they’re just giving my daughter special treatment,’ but when you talk to other parents, you hear the same thing. It’s like, wow, we’ve got some really good teachers at this school. They’re really focused on making sure these kids are where they need to be.”
Amanda says education isn’t just up to teachers; “it’s the teachers and the parents working together, and ECOT does that,” she says. “I’ve been in nice areas and I’ve been in the worst areas, and no other schools do that. They just say, ‘Something’s wrong with your kid.’ They don’t work with the parent, but ECOT does. If you want that experience, you need to put your kid in ECOT, because you’re not going to get it through traditional schooling, unless your kid is the teacher’s pet. ECOT makes all the kids teachers’ pets.”
Now, instead of only getting calls from the school when something is wrong, Amanda gets calls from Sky’s ECOT teachers telling her what a delight her daughter is in class — replacing negative feedback with positive reinforcement.
“Sky has made tremendous friends in ECOT,” Amanda says.
This, too, is a stark contrast from what she experienced at public school. In fact, it got so bad in second grade that Amanda walked into Sky’s bedroom to find her in the closet trying to hang herself. “Nobody likes me,” she told her mom. “They’re all mean to me.”
Some would argue that socialization isn’t a strength of online schools, but Amanda says you get out of it what you put into it. She says the biggest misconception most people have about e-learning environments like ECOT is that “they’re not getting interaction with other students.” Even her boyfriend voiced concerns that Sky wouldn’t be able to socialize in ECOT … that is, until he went along on a field trip and saw kids running up to her yelling, “Sky! Sky!”
“How does she know them?” he asked. “They’re from her class,” Amanda explained.
“When her teacher calls on her, her webcam turns on and the other students can see her. So when they go on field trips, they recognize her. That’s how she’s made so many friends through ECOT. They might not live right down the street, but she gets to socialize with them on the phone and online outside of school, and then when we go on field trips, she gets to meet them.”
Sky isn’t afraid to approach other students on field trips, and “nine times out of 10,” Amanda says, “she can find other kids who’ve been bullied. Some of her best friends she’s made through ECOT are kids with autism or other mental or physical disabilities. It’s just amazing.”
The Future of ECOT
Now, Sky actually looks forward to school, and to seeing her teachers and friends online. But she still begs her mom not to send her back to public school. “I don’t want to go back to school where I’m made fun of” she says.
“You don’t have to worry about that, because you’re not going back to those schools,” Amanda tells her.
Still, Amanda is worried about ECOT’s fate — and her daughter’s, if she wouldn’t have the option of ECOT's breakthrough approach towards K-12 online education.
“My daughter has friends now, she’s excelling in school, and she hasn’t talked about hurting herself since she started ECOT,” Amanda says.
“If they shut the school down, I don’t know what I would do, because my daughter will not go back to public school — especially not where we live. It upsets me that they’re even thinking of shutting ECOT down, but honestly I think it’s about money. It isn’t about whether these kids are getting a good education; it’s about how much funding the school district gets per student, and how much money they’re losing if students leave for ECOT. I’m afraid that if she goes back to regular school, they’ll just push her through the cracks.”
When other parents ask Amanda what she thinks of ECOT — usually because she and Sky are wearing ECOT t-shirts out in public — she’s quick to tell them what a difference it’s made in her daughter’s life.
“I like the fact that my daughter’s excelling, and when they notice a problem, they step in and try to correct it before it’s too late. Other schools don’t do that,” she tells them. “I wish I had ECOT when I was in school. If your kids have medical conditions, this is definitely the school for them because they get to work at their own pace.”
“I’ve recommended ECOT to several parents,” Amanda says. “A few of them have enrolled their children in ECOT, and they all tell me the same thing: ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’”
ECOT is currently involved in a legal action with the Ohio Department of Education. The department is attempting to limit school choice by ripping funding away from ECOT and other eschools based on selective and retroactive enforcement of absurd attendance rules. Learn more about the case here - Ohio Department of Education - Measuring What Matters
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