“I feel so lucky to have found HELP Miami.”

Ricky is my first child. A happy-go-lucky, freckle-faced little boy, who at age 4 loved to learn. Pre-school was a phenomenal experience for Ricky. Under the care of his loving teachers, he was encouraged to be creative and to try new things. He did quite well and was eager to go to school every day. When it came time for my son to start kindergarten, I expected him to continue to be amazing. I fully expected great things to come.

It quickly became apparent that my happy son, who loved to learn, did not fit into the “academic box” that children at 5 years old are supposed to fit into. In Pre-K, Ricky thrived with the one-on-one learning style and looked forward to any assignments he could do that involved using his hands. However, in kindergarten, Ricky was made to remain seated for hours on end, listening to a teacher that frankly did not give him proper attention. (He was 5!)

The teacher began to tell me on a daily basis that, “Richard is not ‘normal’; he can’t focus.” In turn, I began to punish him at home if he did not stay in his seat, focus on his work, listen to his teacher, stay on task, etc. Playtime became almost non-existent as I had to sit with him nightly for hours to get through kindergarten homework. None of the punishments or extra help with homework resulted in anything positive. Towards the end of the year, my husband and I were informed by the school counselors that Ricky was being held back and was not “mature” enough for first grade.

Frustrated, we took Ricky to an A+ Charter School where he in fact repeated kindergarten and he passed. Ricky’s behavior improved and he seemed to get his old spark back. As he seemed to be doing better, my husband and I expected that first grade would be an easy transition. Sadly, we were wrong again.First grade at this charter school was all about teaching students how to do well on standardized tests. My son “learned” to not challenge the teacher; to stay quiet and to remain in his seat. Factually, he was lost, bored and becoming invisible.

In second grade, his curriculum was still primarily focused on getting him to pass standardized tests. He was completely disconnected from school as he did not find it engaging in the slightest. His teacher insisted that Ricky be tested for learning disabilities and soon he was diagnosed ADD.

The multiple medications my son was prescribed left him an emotional mess. He began crying for things that under normal circumstances were no issue. Further, my son developed Transient Tic Disorder as a side-effect to the meds that were supposed to help him. His body twitched uncontrollably. The doctor told me that the tic disorder was most likely going to be a permanent condition.

We took my son off of all medications and refused further pharmaceuticals; however, the damage had been done. My son suffered through third and fourth grade. And I mean suffered. He was taken out of the classes he enjoyed (music, art, physical education) to spend more time on Test Preparation. Add this to his after-school tutoring schedule and my son had no time to just be a boy. Fifth grade began the implementation of Common Core (which was confusing even to me!). Plus, there were 35 kids in one class. Ricky started to say that he couldn’t wait to get old enough to quit school altogether.

As a parent, you really want your child to be happy and to do well. You want them to have a decent upbringing and fond childhood memories. But by the age of 10, my bright, freckled faced, happy boy thought he was stupid and saw no hope of ever improving.

I called a friend in complete tears and found that she had taken her child from a public charter school and placed him at H.E.L.P. Miami. My friend said that this was the best decision she had ever made!I remember that Saturday morning, clicking through the H.E.L.P. Miami website and reading every word out loud to my husband. EVERY WORD! Here was a school based upon an educational philosophy that made sense. I was really excited so decided to call the school and leave a message. To my happy surprise, Barbie – the program founder and director – was there. (That impressed me as it shows dedication for her to be in her office on a Saturday morning.)

I ended up pouring my heart out to her. Everything she said to me on the phone was exactly what had been written on her website. I could not believe it. I told her that I wanted to enroll Ricky immediately into 5th grade. Turned out that the 5th grade class was full. Heartbroken, but not giving up, I did the only thing I knew to do: I began to yell at Barbie over the phone. (Thank God she has a sense of humor and did not hang up!) She said she would do her best to fit our son in but would have to meet him first. So my husband broke the speed limit driving us to the school that Saturday morning for the interview.

Happily, everything worked out and my son started class that MONDAY! Ricky was really nervous to be going to a new school but he settled in quickly. He even made a “best buddy” before morning roll call. His teacher, Miss Morgan, is truly one of a kind. She and Miss Juanita have raised Ricky’s confidence, helping him believe in himself again.

Six months later, I am very happy (and relieved) to say: I have my son back! Ricky LOVES school again. He strives to do well and has even made the Honor Roll twice since enrolling. His math has gone from an F to a B, and he is actively working to bring that to an A. Science is now his favorite subject. Every day he shares what he learns in class with his little sister and he has begun to talk about going to college.

I know my story is long, but I think Ricky’s journey is important. Thank you Barbie, Morgan, Juanita and H.E.L.P. Miami for SAVING my son’s life. I hope you get a new space so you can take in many, many, many more Rickys, and change their lives as you have mine.

I feel so lucky to have found H.E.L.P..Miami. My son’s future is now a bright and Happy one!

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