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How Rocketship Public Schools Helps My Special Needs Son Defy The Odds

“Your son won’t start reading until middle school.”

That was the expert opinion of my son’s pediatrician, autism specialist, and physical therapists. They said his lack of focus, trouble with verbal language and difficulty with comprehension would put his reading skills years behind his peers.

But they didn’t know about Rocketship Public Schools.

Nzuri is in first grade now. One day last year when Nzuri was in kindergarten, his teacher texted me a video of him reading an entire book. By himself. Every word. His teacher and I sobbed. My baby was reading, at the same level as his classmates.

How? Because he loved school, he loved learning, and he was completely supported by his entire community at Rocketship. My son is growing and learning because he has the option to attend a great public school at Rocketship Transformation Prep.

I am a proud founding parent of Rocketship Transformation Prep. As the parent of a child with special needs, I need to be in close contact with my son’s teachers to understand what is and isn’t working for him at school. It was clear right away that Rocketship would treat me as a partner in my son’s education. With teachers and parents working together as equal partners, we are making the impossible possible for our children.

Nzuri started K4 at a different school, but right away I knew it wasn’t the right fit. I didn’t feel welcome, I wasn’t allowed in the classroom, and I couldn’t get in touch with his teachers easily. I felt like a puppy – eagerly waiting outside the classroom each day, hoping to be let in, but I never was. At his old school, he was in a separate special education class and all his classmates were nonverbal. Nzuri was never hearing full conversations or pushed to engage with students in general education classrooms. As a result, he regressed back to sucking on his pacifier and stopped speaking in full words.

But at Rocketship, Nzuri and I are included as part of the Rocketship community. Rocketship’s meaningful inclusion model means that he spends a lot of time in a general education classroom with his para-educator for support. He also gets individual support outside of the classroom. And he is growing so fast! He’s reading, he’s speaking full sentences, and he’s growing confident as a learner and friend.

And from day one, Rocketship Transformation Prep treated me as a valued partner in my child’s education. Before the school even opened, Rocketship came to us and asked what we needed and how to partner with us to achieve it. That’s how the founding parents decided to name our school “Rocketship Transformation Prep.” No matter what, Ms. Vang, the principal, takes my calls to talk through Nzuri’s latest developments, texts me photos of him learning throughout the day, and she and her staff send home resources to help me help Nzuri learn at home. Rocketship teachers also visit the home of every student they serve every school year. Nzuri’s teachers come to our house to meet with me, learn about my family and Nzuri’s home life, and together we set a plan for the school year. Nzuri loves to show his teachers the artwork in his room and I love getting the chance to know his teachers even better. Even though our home visit was on Zoom last fall, I still feel it is so important to get time with each of Nzuri’s teachers solely focused on me, my child, and how we can partner together to help Nzuri succeed. They say it takes a village to raise a child – Rocketship is my village, my family.

Not even a global pandemic could weaken my Rocketship family. Right after schools shut down last March, Nzuri was set up with a computer and live classes. When I couldn’t afford my internet bill anymore, Ms. Vang showed up at my work with a wi-fi hotspot right away. Through a weekly text message survey, I would get connected to food banks, tech assistance, and anything else my family needed to get through this hard winter. My Rocketship village got me – and hundreds of other Rocketeer families – through a very dark winter. And now Nzuri is back in school in person! He is thriving in-person and comes home every day with the biggest smile on his face, telling me all about what he learned that day.

The other day, Nzuri came home from school and started telling me all about how our government works. He explained what the president does, how voting works, and how our elected officials pass laws. He’s six years old. He’s autistic. He’s a Rocketeer. He’s learning and growing every single day at Rocketship Transformation Prep and most days, like that day I got a civics lesson in my kitchen, his knowledge and understanding of the world around us completely blows me away. I can’t wait to bring him in for his next pediatrics appointment and show the doctor what my baby can do.

Published on September 2, 2021