Meet Jen

“Jen and I started working together just over a year ago. From the moment we met, my first impression of her was that she was a loving mom and a fierce advocate. I got the sense that she would do anything and everything possible for her children to have a great shot at a quality education and life. Every interaction that we have had since that first meeting has proved my initial thoughts to be true. I remember getting ready to walk Jen through school options, and she had already done her own thorough research on what schools she thought may best serve the specific and unique needs of each of her individual children. I loved that she was interested in my opinion and insight, but had already put in some legwork as well, since she knows her own kids’ needs best.”

Ileana Ortiz, New Orleans Navigator

“I’m a mom of three, and the CFO of Ruby Slipper in New Orleans. We’re originally from Tampa, but we moved here from Nashville last year. Will is our oldest. He just turned seven. Ethan is five. And Katelyn is three. Will is on the autism spectrum. He's now in a self-contained classroom at a Firstline school. Our other two are in general ed classrooms.

Will did great with the transition initially. He had some great paraprofessionals who got him and worked well with him. The school has been everything I would have hoped for and then some. The environment is warm and welcoming. So last year was great. This year there have been lots of staff changes, so Will’s behavior has been out of whack. We’re figuring it out. The next step is to update his IEP to say that he requires a dedicated aide, because we know that helps improve his focus and address his behavior consistently.

Once we got Will settled, we had to find a school for Ethan. Ethan is a neurotypical five-year-old. We really wanted public school for him. I think it's important in these formative years for them to be around different types of people from different cultures and different experiences. And I felt like academically, a good public school would be great for him. We picked our house because it was in the area that would give us preference for Hynes.

When we went through the OneApp process, we chose 14 schools on the first round. We got nothing. I think I chose eight schools in the second round. He was waitlisted for a couple, but he was like 200-something. Impossible. I never thought that he wouldn't get into any public school. It's public school! Coming from other areas, there’s no question. I went into panic mode. I started looking at the private schools, feverishly calling and emailing, and did end up enrolling him at a local Catholic school as a backup.

My Navigator, Ileana, was like, well, the next opportunity is late enrollment. But that’s not until two weeks before school starts! She said it can work, and she encouraged me to go through with it. The first day I went down there, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I got there around 7 o'clock, and I was like the 100th person in line. I didn't even stay. I thought, well, I must plan on being the first person there. If that list is updated first thing in the morning and there's something at Hynes UNO, I get it. If there's not, at least I’ve really tried every possible option.

I got out there on Monday morning at 5 o’clock, and there were already two other people waiting. One was waiting for preschool. But the other guy was like, “I only want one school—Hynes UNO.” So I thought, oh gosh, if there’s one seat this guy is going to get it. But the list got updated, and there were no spots at Hynes UNO.

Tuesday was the last day of late enrollment. Since it was my one last shot, I upped my game and got there at 4:30 in the morning. I was the first person there. The website updated around 6 or 6:30, and there was a spot at Hynes UNO. I completely freaked out. It’s such a huge relief, such a good feeling.

We’re super happy there. Ethan's definitely challenged. They're sending extra work home for him in the areas that he's excelling. I think they really meet the kids where they are. He's much more himself in this environment than he was at the Christian preschool that we sent him to in Tennessee. He seemed very ashamed when he came home from that school. Ethan is very artistic. He likes to express himself. If he wants to dress up in a princess costume, at his prior school they were not accepting of that. In public school in New Orleans, they don’t care. You gotta have costumes. He's right where he belongs.

It’s been such an emotional roller coaster, from going through Will's process to then switching gears to place Ethan. Ileana gave me a lot of very unbiased, objective information about the different options. She threw all the darts at the wall. I wouldn't have been able to do it without her, with either child. I probably wouldn't have put the effort into the late enrollment process had Ileana not reassured me. She gave me that boost I needed—you can do this, power through. This is the most insane way to register for kindergarten in the world. But Ileana reminded me that it’s five days of my life for nine years of my kid’s education.”

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