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Founder - Lisa Baxter

My story began in February of 2000 when I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with Down syndrome. I didn't know then what I know now about raising a child with special needs. One of my biggest challenges was sending my daughter to school. She started going to school when she was only 3 years old. I was the kind of parent who would not leave the school for the entire day! I drove my child to school packed my lunch and took a book. Most of the day was spent peeking around corners and looking through windows to make sure my little girl was alright. We spent 8 years in Pinellas County schools. Most years were great but like everything my daughter was slow at learning. Basically, she became frustrated because of this. The teachers would call me almost every day saying my daughter was under her desk and won't come out, what should they do? Or they would call and ask me to pick her up. Her behavior was always a little off. As she was shuffled from grade to grade, she became more and more confused. The work became too hard for her. My daughter used to love going to school until about the 5th grade when another parent informed me that my daughter was being bullied!!! I was furious to say the least! I personally don't think inclusion works, I feel our special children need things created just for them so they can make friends with other children like themselves. It is too difficult now a days to try to fit in with their typical peers. I decided to look into private schools for my daughter and I applied for the McKay Scholarship. The McKay scholarship is in place for students with a learning disability to attend a private school. They must first attend public school for one year and have an IEP (Individual Education Plan) which is issued by the public school. Once the parent puts in their intent for the McKay, the student is issued a matrix number. This number determines the amount of scholarship funds depending on the severity of the child's needs. When choosing a private school beware they may charge you the difference between your scholarship and their tuition. I began to tour every private school in my area searching for the perfect school for my little girl. But when I called about enrollment and told them my daughter has Down syndrome, I was told “We don't take those kind of kids.” Again, I was left feeling frustrated and disappointed. That was when I told my husband, “I am going to open my own school! I already had a non-profit for my dance company, “Special Kids Dance” so that was half the battle. My vision for a school would be one the kids love as well as their parents. Our school would cater to children with special needs. Special Kids Academy opened in September of 2011 with an online curriculum. We would provide the laptops for the students and learning would become fun! What a great concept! I thought outside the box and made this school like no other in Pinellas County! We place the child at a level they are comfortable with so they are successful. In fact, quite a few times parents will ask that their child be placed back to kindergarten to learn the basics again. This I believe to be a wonderful idea because the program has such a great way of teaching that it keeps the child's interest. I know computers are the education of the future! We have had such success with our curriculum that students are reading in one year at SKA! Besides the regular subjects of Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts, we offer Art, Music and Drama class. Speech, OT and PT is also provided. I hope my story has helped new parents who are just beginning this journey! My daughter is 18 years old now. Being a parent of a special child is a very rewarding gift. It has made me feel like I am a chosen parent. These children are very special and very loving. If I can be of any help to any parent who needs advise, please give me a call. Lisa Baxter 727-204-4545