Helping Children Soar With Educational Advocacy

10/01/2012 11:23 am ET | Updated Dec 01, 2012

It can be difficult to get everyone's attention at a party with 400 people, especially on a gorgeous night on the terrace of the Kennedy Center. But 10-year-old Sky Stringer, the emcee at Children's Law Center's Helping Children Soar Benefit, knew how to handle the crowd. Her energy and charisma stunned the lawyers, business people, philanthropists and government officials in the room, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering if we were watching a future president make her debut.

As the country and the District debate what goals we should set for student achievement, Sky reminded me that a failure to invest in all of the children in our community will rob us of the talents and skills of those we leave behind. Because Sky's future didn't look nearly as bright two years ago.

You can listen to Sky and her mother tell their story in a short video excerpt of the program, and I hope you will.

Sky, a remarkably bright little girl, was struggling in school. Her writing was illegible, she often combined two words into one when reading, and math homework took four times as long as it should. Her mother, Ms. Stringer, tried everything -- from private tutoring to extra flashcard drills -- to keep her daughter on grade level. When nothing worked, Ms. Stringer asked for a special education evaluation. The evaluations showed that Sky had specific learning disabilities, but the school's special education coordinator said that Sky was passing her classes and thus ineligible for additional assistance. Sky might have been passing her classes, but in fourth grade Sky couldn't tell time or make change -- and her mother knew that she wasn't learning to her potential.

Ms. Stringer asked for advice from her pediatrician at the Children's National Medical Center health center at THEARC. After additional testing, Sky was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Even so, the school didn't want to give Sky special education services. That's when Sky's doctor suggested she call Children's Law Center.

Joy Purcell, the Children's Law Center staff attorney who took the case, and her investigator Amanda Eggers, took the case to court and won. Sky received an individualized education program (IEP), and intensive services that helped her catch up to her peers. In just a single school year, Sky has made amazing progress. A month ago she started sixth grade at Stuart Hobson Middle School. She still has specialized instruction at school and a tutor who works with her twice a week. This extra help is the difference for Sky, and it's letting her soar the way we want all D.C.'s children to soar.