We are proud to feature this guest post by Carter English, father of Isabelle, a child with Down syndrome, about his quest to establish Rise School San Antonio, an early childhood program to help children with developmental delays succeed in a school setting.
On August 23, 2022, our beautiful Isabelle Grace English was born in San Antonio, Texas. My wife, Taylor, and I had lived in Alamo Heights for two months when Izzy arrived.
None of our prenatal testing indicated any abnormalities with Izzy. So, when the nurses gravely looked at me and said, “Did you know she has Trisomy 21?” the fringes of my vision faded as I struggled to grasp this new reality. Taylor was devastated as she heard the words “Down syndrome.” In that moment our world caved in.
What do you do when your child is suddenly not the daughter you expected? How would we move forward when all of our hopes and dreams for Isabelle had instantly changed? What would our life look like tomorrow, or in twenty years? Would Isabelle ever be able to live independently? Where was God in this? Our foundation was shaken to the core and as we silently looked at each other, tears in our eyes, our doctor placed Isabelle on Taylor’s chest and encouraged us that she was ours and that she was perfect.
In the coming days, weeks, and months we have found immense joy and the deepest sorrows. Through all of it, our faith has persisted, as has our determination to provide Izzy with the very best services we can to enable her to live the happy, productive life she deserves. Our purpose became increasingly clear.
The Rise School Model
Enter the Rise School. San Antonio is nearly the only major city in Texas that does not have a Rise School, widely considered best in class for early intervention for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their typical peers. The Rise School uses an integrated model, meaning children without developmental delays are taught alongside traditional learners. Research shows that this model leads to the best outcomes for all kids because each student’s strengths serves as a model for their peers.
Rise is special for many reasons, including the learning environment it creates. Each classroom of 12 students has three teachers: one Lead Teacher who either has, or is pursuing, her Masters’ Degree, one Teacher, and one Teacher Assistant. They are joined by a bevy of experts in child developmental milestones—social, emotional, and physical. Unlike most early child intervention programs, at Rise needed therapy is integrated into the classroom setting rather than being delivered by pulling individual students out of the classroom. Speech, physical, occupational, and music therapists lead full-class activities that are then reinforced individually by the other teachers in the room. Each classroom has up to two hours of each type of therapy every week.
Bringing the Rise School to San Antonio
We have long known that quality early intervention is the most important thing we can do for children born with any developmental challenge. Yet as a society—including here in San Antonio—we struggle to deliver on this promise. The Rise School is a private model, so it will not be accessible to all families in our community. To tackle that challenge, we are partnering with Christus Children’s for donated space and therapy services so that we can lower costs. And we are committed to providing financial support and scholarships to families that enroll.
The Rise School hopes to be a model for what an immersive, fully-integrated experience starting as early as six months and continuing to kindergarten can mean for its students. We look forward to working with other early intervention organizations to share our model and together to think, act and plan for ways that as a community, we can do more to serve those with special needs.
Starting Rise in San Antonio involves self-interest. We are starting a school for our daughter. At the same time, Taylor and I fervently believe that our calling is to help not just Izzy but those like her, whether they have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, a seizure disorder, or other disabilities. Isabelle is the catalyst to serve more students with Rise’s best-in-class program. The fact is, Taylor and I can afford to pay for whatever therapy Isabelle needs, but San Antonio can do better for those that cannot. If that was the only reason that we moved to San Antonio and the only reason that God saw fit to bless us with Isabelle, then that is good enough for me.
Connect with Rise School San Antonio
Rise School San Antonio has a website, riseschoolsa.org, where you can learn more and donate to support our school. You can follow Rise School San Antonio on social media on Facebook and Instagram. Contact us by email at email@example.com. We are hiring teachers and staff, and we are connecting with families who are interested in enrolling their children—both traditional learners and children with neurodevelopmental delays. When Rise School San Antonio opens in August 2024, there will be one classroom for one-year-olds and another classroom for two-year-olds, expanding over the years to ten classrooms serving students up to six years old.
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Carter English and Vanessa Lacoss Hurd, founders of the Rise School San Antonio, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on December 12, 2023 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
Carter English is a Managing Partner at Higginbotham, a provider of insurance, financial, and HR services. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Texas Christian University and Master’s degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Texas State University.
Vanessa Lacoss Hurd has more than 25 years’ experience in the educational nonprofit leadership, change management and consulting. Currently, she is building a consulting practice to provide coaching services to nonprofit executives along with philanthropic investment advisory and due diligence services to high-net worth individuals.
Previously, Vanessa served as the Deputy Director of the City of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration, where she led efforts to successfully turnaround and execute on all programmatic activities associated with the City’s milestone birthday. Prior to that, Vanessa served as the Founding CEO of the DoSeum, where she led the organization’s successful visioning and relocation efforts, culminating in a new, 70,000 square foot facility and $62mm capital campaign, including the organization’s first-ever endowment. Earlier in her career, she served as a Partner for The New Teacher Project, where she led the regional development and expansion of new teacher cohorts with school districts in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and El Paso. She also served as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Jumpstart for Young Children and as the Executive Director of Teach For America in Houston, where she expanded the region by more than 300% in a four-year period. Vanessa started her career in education as a teacher of middle school history and social studies in Houston and multi-level English in Japan.
Vanessa holds a Master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a BA in History and Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.
Vanessa is active civically, where she currently serves on the Boards of the UP Partnership, Rebecca’s Wish, and the Clarity Child Guidance Center. She has previously served on the Boards of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Great Hearts Schools, the Good Samaritan Center and the San Antonio Visitors and Convention Bureau. She was one of 13 members of former Mayor Julian Castro’s Brainpower Initiative, which led to the development of the City’s Pre-K 4 SA program. Vanessa holds numerous awards and is married with three children.
Read More About Students with Functional Needs
- “Guide to Enrolling in Celebrate Dyslexia Schools for 2024–25,” San Antonio Charter Moms, December 5, 2023
- “Guide to Enrolling at The Foundation School for Autism—San Antonio for 2024–25,” San Antonio Charter Moms, November 30, 2023
- “‘I Used My Voice’: Juli Henderson Advocated for Her Children’s Needs,” Juli Henderson, San Antonio Charter Moms, March 1, 2023
- “Decoding the IEP: Parents Learn from a Special Education Advocate,” Bekah McNeel, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 22, 2020
Read More About Parent Perspectives
- “Rose Parham Shares a Parent’s Perspective From the Keystone School,” Rose Parham, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 26, 2023
- “Megan Garcia Shares a Parent Perspective from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran School,” Megan Garcia, San Antonio Charter Moms, February 23, 2022
- “Anna Koalenz Searched to Find the Right School for Her Son,” San Antonio Charter Moms, September 8, 2022
- “Erin Stinson Offers a Parent Perspective from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran School,” Erin Stinson, San Antonio Charter Moms, February 23, 2022
- “Bonnie Salas Is a Parent and Leader at Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering,” Bonnie Salas, San Antonio Charter Moms, January 26, 2022
- “A Mother’s Angst: Kathleen Gomez Exercised School Choice in the Age of COVID,” Kathleen Gomez, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 27, 2021
Editor’s note: Rise School San Antonio is different from Rise Inspire Academy, an open enrollment public charter high school serving students in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.