The trouble began for Danny Neds in the fourth grade. An excellent student, he routinely earned great grades and loved to learn. He wanted to participate in his public school’s Challenge Program, but unfortunately, the lengthy test taken on a computer ended in a good result, but not good enough to qualify. “I wasn’t a good test taker,” Danny says. His mother, Annie, expands on that. “We suspected he was dealing with dyslexia, but he wasn’t diagnosed.”

The Neds family tried to go through the school system to get Danny assessed, but because of his strong grades they refused. Danny, then, was stuck. Because he was not allowed access to the diagnosis that would show his computer test result was not due to a lack of academic ability, he remained outside of the Challenge Program for the rest of the year.

The summer after fourth grade, the Neds decided to take matters into their own hands and have Danny tested at their own expense. The team at Vive came back with an official diagnosis—just as they had suspected, Danny was dealing with dyslexia, and that dyslexia made tests taken on a computer difficult for him.

Armed with this new information, Annie approached Danny’s fifth grade year hopeful that changes could be made to support her son. A meeting was set up to create an IEP for Danny. Red flags flew when it appeared Danny’s new teacher was irritated at the prospect of simply meeting to discuss Danny’s needs. The school did not seem to understand where Annie was coming from. “They kept asking me what else I wanted from Danny, as he had always gotten good grades. I kept trying to explain that this wasn’t what I wanted from Danny, but for Danny.”

The clarification fell on deaf ears, and Danny suffered through a fifth-grade year that saw him frequently coming home in tears. Not only was no help made available for Danny, but he found himself routinely belittled by his teacher. “She made me feel horrible,” Danny says. Despite many attempts at improving the situation by the Neds, the school was uninterested in advocating for Danny.

The Neds had enough and turned their focus on how to make things better for Danny in middle school. Prince of Peace had always been on their radar, so they sat down with then principal Mr. Cunningham. “He was so warm and personable,” Annie says. The Neds felt like Prince of Peace would provide the right environment for Danny. Even so, there were plenty of anxieties for Danny as the first day at his new school approached. In particular, Danny feared a significant workload without the needed support.

Mitigating that anxiety was the welcoming flexibility of the middle school team. In stark contrast to their previous experience, the Neds found special education teacher Ms. Pfaff and all the sixth grader teachers happy and willing to come up with an SAP to meet Danny’s needs. Finally, the Neds felt heard, understood, and supported.

At the beginning, Annie sensed that the teachers were giving Danny space, allowing him time to warm up and feel comfortable. The slow approach worked, and Danny started to realize he was finally safe at school. “I felt like I started becoming more like myself,” Danny says. As Annie witnessed Danny’s progress at Prince of Peace, she realized just how much confidence he had lost while at public school.

Initially, Danny went to Ms. Pfaff’s quiet classroom to take tests, but as he blossomed at Prince of Peace, he found the additional support was no longer needed. When asked what made the difference, Danny says, “Feeling emotionally supported by the teachers,” to which Annie adds an enthusiastic, “Yes!” When it comes to the academics, Danny says, “I not only feel challenged enough, I feel supported enough to rise to the challenge.”

While the Neds family has always been active in their faith, they also appreciate the bolstering of their spiritual life provided by Prince of Peace Catholic School. “Father Smith gives a very good homily,” Danny says, while Annie comments on how much she appreciates the time and attention each student receives in their spiritual formation, citing an experience where Father Smith and veteran altar servers spoke to Danny about that service, giving him a deeper understanding of that role.

When asked what advice Danny would give a fifth grader attending public school and contemplating a change to Prince to Peace, Danny says, “I would tell them, ‘Just be yourself. You’re able to do that at POP.’ Really, it’s one of the best things about it.”

Written by Carrie Adams-Young