When Sharon Canaday’s family moved to Arizona from Idaho in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns, the decision to homeschool her daughter Viola came naturally. Canaday didn’t think that a traditional educational setting would suit a unique learner like Viola due to trauma-related behavioral complications. Viola also had difficulties learning at the same pace as her peers, which was only recently diagnosed as autism. 

So, using her past experience as a teacher and new knowledge of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program—which her daughter originally qualified for as a former foster child, but has since become available to all Arizona students—Canaday took Viola’s schooling into her own hands.

“Viola has anxiety issues and doesn’t handle crowds well. Knowing that she would have had to go to a big school, we just didn’t even consider that as a possibility. We knew that would not work,” Canaday said.

Canaday, a mom of six children between the ages of 17 and 29, had experience researching several programs to best fit the needs of each child but settled on homeschooling with Enlightium Academy, which offers interactive, multimedia curricula and one-on-one communication with teachers. 

Though she felt that would adequately address Viola’s needs, the family wasn’t financially able to afford Enlightium Academy’s out-of-pocket cost at that time. Fortunately, the state offered ESA funding for children adopted out of foster care, as well as those with disability diagnoses. 

Canaday said that this funding gave her the ability to make educational choices for her daughter she may not have been able to make otherwise. As a result of ESA funding becoming available to all Arizona students after September 2022, more families across Arizona are empowered to make the choice that Canaday did.

“I’m a teacher so I’ve been on the inside of those walls and I know that a lot of the teachers out there are absolutely doing their best,” Canaday said, pointing out the benefits of public schooling for certain students, such as her son who attends their local public school. She continued:

“A lot of the administrators are absolutely doing their best, but they’re working within a system that is not set up with a student in mind in most situations. Sometimes that works for kids and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Throughout Viola’s homeschooling experience, Canaday also had the opportunity to enroll her daughter in a therapy program through their insurance. As a result, Viola has connected with peers from similar backgrounds and made progress working through her trauma. 

Between the therapy and online schooling, Canaday said her daughter’s performance has improved so much that she will likely graduate early from her program in the fall, despite originally being enrolled a calendar year behind. 

“The best way to save our schools is to make the schools accountable, and the best way to make the schools accountable is to give parents choice,” said Canaday. “If parents have the ability to say, ‘You know what, this is not working for me. I’m going to do something else with my child,’ then the schools are going to have to start doing their best.”

Canaday and her husband adopted three siblings from foster care and have three children of their own. Currently, Canaday’s eldest daughter, Annie, a single mother of two girls, is living with the Canadays while finishing up her nursing degree. 

Annie’s five-year-old, Liberty, is set to begin school this upcoming fall. Having seen how school choice set Viola down a path for success, Annie applied for Liberty to participate in Arizona’s universal ESA program. Recently accepted, Liberty will now be the youngest member of a multi-generational ESA family homeschooled by Canaday.

“There are a lot of things that make it difficult for people to have educational choice, and ESA takes down a lot of those barriers and makes educational choice available to people [whom] it wouldn’t be available to otherwise,” Canaday said. “Being able to get homeschool materials through universal ESA for Annie’s five-year-old has been a huge blessing.”

For more information about Education Savings Accounts, click here.
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