“It took some time to realize I could learn.”

Since I was a kid I have always wanted to be in the military. My mother was an MP in the U.S. Army and I wanted very much to follow in her footsteps. I knew that I had to be “smart” to join the army, but I was not one of “those kids” in school.

I started having trouble in the first grade. My lack of understanding resulted in me being put in special ed classes and taking Adderall. I was told I was “learning disabled” and that I could not learn as fast as “normal”. I was told that the drug would help me focus.

The dose of Adderall slowly doubled by the time I was in high school. By 10th grade I came off the drug as I think the insurance ran out. Coming off the drug was hard. Years of Adderall use left me feeling unconscious, disoriented, numb. I felt like a robot and I could not sleep. I could not “think” or do simple tasks. I forgot simple assignments and sometimes I had to ask classmates what class I was supposed to go to as I would forget. My mother also said that my behavior became somewhat violent during this time.

I got horrible grades in Algebra 1 but somehow passed with a “B”. My geometry teacher would give work and say that it did not matter if the answers were correct, we’d get a high grade if we tried. I ended up failing geometry completely.

I had decent grades in science and reading. I ended up handling my reading on my own. I read the King James Bible and ended up improving my spelling, grammar and pronunciation. However, because of my label, I was not allowed in regular classes. This really upset me.

My classmates started to drop out and I thought this was my only solution too (which would suck as it would affect my military status-I could still join the army, but as a drop-out I would not have many opportunities.) Honestly, even if I got a GED, it still would not advance me in the military.

My mother was really worried about me because I had basically given up. I had no idea that she was checking out other schools. She found HELP Miami, and told me about it. I was told that they did not “believe” the learning disability labels, but felt that with good study habits one could overcome academic confusions. I toured the school and was accepted to start in 11th grade.

I remember my first week of school when I tested out at a 4th grade level in math. I started to explain to the director that I had a learning disability and how impossible math was for me. She responded by telling me that I COULD learn math and then she asked me what the word “math” meant. (And THAT started about 6 weeks of going over math basics with the director.)

There is a word in Greek-Metanoia. It appears in the New Testament and basically means to “change one’s mind.” While it took some time to realize that I could learn, I feel that I have achieved “metanoia” at HELP Miami. Not only am I taking standard high school classes, I was voted class president and I passed Algebra 2.

I will graduate with a standard diploma.

I feel for the first time I was actually receiving information. Nancy is an analytical, persistent, determined, focused and creative teacher. I consider her a goddess! First she gave me complete attention in math and insisted that I get through everything-even though at times I felt this impossible. She did not give up.

The books we read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lord of the Flies, The 5000 Year Leap and so on were somewhat life changing. We learned what the words meant and as a group engaged upon many discussions. Everyone participated-not because we were forced to but because we wanted to.

I enjoyed debate class and government class as well. I felt encouraged to express my views of what is right and what is wrong. (This included introducing my fellow students to my idol-Johnny Cash.)

There is a sense of involvement at HELP Miami. A sense of community. There is teamwork between the students and staff. A sense that someone truly cares about you and what you want to do.

School should not be only about assigning packets for homework or labeling students. I am experiencing what a REAL SCHOOL should be. And I am a better person because of it.


“I am so utterly grateful for everyone at H.E.L.P. Miami.”

My son Joshua spent Pre-K and Kindergarten lost where letters and sounds were concerned. They came and went from his mind like water, always running through but never leaving an impression. It didn’t matter if he repeated them and saw them, nothing stuck. Because of the nature of the public school system curriculum, all the teachers were aware he was behind and wasn’t retaining the information, but their hands were tied. They couldn’t adjust the material to where he understood; instead, we all had to watch from the boat while he drowned and fell behind.

Joshua came into H.E.L.P. unable to write his name or recognize any of the letters of the alphabet. He couldn’t remember or understand the concept of days of the week, let alone the concepts of sounds and reading.

In just three weeks of school, he could write his name without a reference, started to remember letters, sounds, and is beginning to recognize some words. This is a monumental leap forward in such a short time compared to the two years before where he couldn’t keep up at all.

H.E.L.P. Miami is phenomenal because of the flexibility to tailor their material to the child instead of the other way around. Also, the care and patience of Ms. Aly made Josh feel included and safe, fostering an excitement to learn and an excitement about school that I have never seen from him before.

I am so utterly grateful for everyone at H.E.L.P. Miami, especially for Ms. Aly, Ms. Luisa and Ms. Cassandra who have all made a tremendous impact in my boys’ lives. Saving them from a lifetime of feeling less to feeling they are limitless.

I think Josh showed exactly what H.E.L.P. Miami is by saying, unprompted, “I love school. They help me.”

Thank you, Barbie and Tamara for allowing H.E.L.P. Miami to exist.


“This was the best decision we’ve ever made.”

“I’m stupid. I don’t want to go to school.” My then 7-year-old son, AJ said to me one day on the way to school, his face defeated.

School had never been easy for AJ. Early in Kindergarten, we were called in to discuss his difficulty learning-especially with reading and writing. “He is just too distracted and unfocused. We know he can do the work, but he’d rather cut up paper and look out the window,” his teachers would tell us. No matter the amount of work we did with him and no matter the extra hours with a tutor, AJ was way behind his peers.

Then came second grade and everything took a turn for the worse. He couldn’t keep up with the class and his grades dropped from B’s and C’s to D’s and F’s. I knew we had to get him help somewhere because the public school system wasn’t working for him.

I discovered H.E.L.P. Miami and told AJ we would try to see if a new environment with smaller and more individualized attention would help.

This was the best decision we’ve ever made.

AJ started in the summer program and immediately we saw major changes in our son. He blossomed under Ms. Cassandra’s care and improved by leaps and bounds in the program. AJ entered reading at a low kindergarten level as a second grader, not able to read on his own and requiring assistance. But by the end of the summer, he had improved a whole grade level. Our son, who used to be so curious and inquisitive, had been lost under all the doubt and frustration. After just a few weeks, he finally reemerged. He became animated again, talking about school and what he learned. He started asking questions again and looking forward to going back the next day. It felt like a miracle.

Summer came to an end and he started the school year. Throughout his time, AJ has thrived, improving his reading by another grade level and a half. He is now able to read on his own and his writing has improved tremendously. His love for learning returned and his grades reflected this improvement going from D’s and F’s to mostly A’s and B’s. We couldn’t be happier with his progress, but best of all is how happy AJ is with his own progress.

“I want to get straight A’s,” he told me the other day when I picked him up.

I smiled back at his determined face, “And you can do it.”

“I know,” he said with a wide smile.

Thank you, HELP Miami for helping teach AJ the tools he needs to succeed and for bringing joy back to learning.


“Because of the skills I learned at HELP Miami, I completed two years of college in just one.”

Ever since I started school, I hated it; the teachers, the homework, the tests and the pointless assignments I thought were given just to KEEP us busy.

In elementary school I was forced to see a guidance counselor due to my “unnatural” laziness (which is completely natural in every kid that age if you ask me). In middle school I began to show a bit more interest in school, but later came the pointless rants of the over dramatic punishments of teachers. I think they were just “power hungry,” but bullying 11 year olds? Really? Now really discouraged, I start high school where my teachers WERE the WORST! All they did was hand out worksheets and tests while they sat at their desks eating, texting or being on their computers. If a student needed help, that seemed to actually bother the teachers. We were either blamed for not being able to work it out by ourselves or completely ignored. As no real interest was shown to me, I showed no interest right back. By senior year I had the reputation of showing up late for school and sleeping in class.

Two months into my senior year my father and I visited a school in a shopping center; HELP Miami. Barbie was VERY HONEST about my situation (eye opening to say the least), but she understood. Basically, if I wanted the help I would get it, but I would have to work. I met the high school teacher, Nancy, and she too was VERY HONEST about my school performance and future. So I enrolled expecting the worst. However, the school was great! Nancy gave help, attention and showed a true interest in me. I was introduced to classes I never thought of taking before, such as physics, economics and probability and statistics. Math ended up becoming my favorite subject. The school actually felt like a family to me which is something I never even remotely experienced in previous schools. Not only did I get my diploma at HELP, but I went on to college and, because of the skills I learned at HELP, I completed two years of college in just one. I am one leap closer to enrolling in the university of my dreams!

In the meantime, I tutor high school students on math and volunteer at the school. If I could go back in time and start high school over this would be the school I’d choose. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE AT H.E.L.P. MIAMI! I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE IN THIS POSITION. MY PARENTS COULDN’T BE HAPPIER WITH THE CHANGE IN ME! THANK YOU SO MUCH!


“For the first time in school, I feel I am important.”

My name is Devin and I am a senior at H.E.L.P. Miami. I was born in Queens, started school in New York and pretty much hated it from the start, like from Kindergarten. My grandfather always told me to “be respectful” and “do well in school,” but he passed away shortly after I moved to Miami in 2004. After that school went out the window completely – I began to get into fights, I started to skip school and I got in with the wrong crowd. I really did not care.

My parents put me in “good schools” but I would get expelled. In fact, since moving to Miami in 2004 I have been kicked out of 6 schools. I ended up dropping out last year and NO WAY would I ever go back to high school. I was DONE! I made up my mind to get a GED and would figure it out from there.

My mom asked me to try a summer program to help me with my GED studies. The program was H.E.L.P. Miami and it was located in a shopping center next to a grocery store. It was hate at first sight! BUT it took about a week for me to discover that I was actually learning something and the work I was given could be done. I decided to give up the GED goal and pursue a high school diploma, so I enrolled in the private school program. I learned how to study and currently have the best grades I have ever had in any school I have attended AND I am an “angel” in class! (No fights, no skipping, no problems!)Both the principal, Barbie, and my teacher, Nancy, listen to me and, for the first time in school, I feel like I am important. Further, Nancy makes me look up about 1000 words in a dictionary every day which has resulted in a rise in standardized test scores. (I seriously did not expect understanding words to make such a difference but I am proof that it does.)

Not only will I graduate with a diploma, I am going to college to become a paramedic. None of this would have been possible if my mom hadn’t found this program 6 months ago. I cannot thank her and everyone at H.E.L.P. enough. (By the way, my mom is like a walking advertisement for this school and tells everyone how well I am doing!)


“I’m thankful to my parents for deciding to enroll me at HELP Miami.”

By the end of 5th grade I was convinced I could not learn. My teachers seemed to think that because I was born hearing-impaired I somehow could not really be helped. Further, they often appeared frustrated if I asked for help. As you can imagine I did not like school, felt inadequate as a person and knew I’d never be “smart.”

Thankfully, my parents decided to enroll me at H.E.L.P. Miami. Right away I noticed a difference. My teacher took the time to make sure I understood what I was studying about. I was encouraged to ask questions, too. (In my earlier school asking questions could get you into trouble.)After just a few weeks at H.E.L.P. Miami I had more confidence and felt better about school. My first quarter test scores were up and for the first time in my life I enjoyed reading. I literally started reading books at family dinners and at sleepovers with friends.

Part of the school’s curriculum was a series of courses that taught me good study habits. Through these courses I learned how to study and pin-pointed why I struggled before. I did a course on study habits, one about dictionaries and a course on grammar. I had the most fun on a course about communication where I had to face another student without laughing. (The whole class ended up laughing, but we worked through all the drills.)

The school helped me tremendously and I still use the study methods I learned. I am now in my second year of college studying to be a speech therapist. I look forward to a long career helping others. Thanks to H.E.L.P. Miami, I know I will achieve this goal.


“This school saved my son’s life.”

He went to Pre-K. The staff loved him and he loved them. He went to a summer program and was such a hit that the director calls every year asking if he will be back.

All of this changed when my son began to attend a charter school. My son’s first grade teacher told me that my son was always distracted, did not pay attention, was disinterested in classwork. I was told by his teacher he was irresponsible because his desk was a mess and he was always losing assignments and homework. Further, the teacher found Ossiel to be aggressive, unfriendly and hyper. She actually said he was a “trouble-maker” and a “bad boy.”

There was an incident at school where my son was hit in the head by another student with a lunch box, knocking out his two front teeth. His teacher said that this was an accident and refused to look at a medical report by a dentist about the damage done to my son’s mouth. I don’t think this was an accident. I think the teacher did not like my son so did not care. I also do not believe this teacher said one positive word to my son in the entire year he was in her class. Not one positive word. Instead, she insisted he be evaluated for mental disabilities.

I asked that my child be moved to a different class and was told this was against school policy. To make matters worse, my son was loaded down with hours of homework, was expected to write paragraphs before he could barely write a sentence, and was given word problems in math before he could read. He began to pretend to be sick to get out of going to school. His grades for the year were C’s, D’s and F’s and by the end of first grade, my son had no self esteem and hated school.

Thanks to the Step-Up for Students Scholarship, I was given financial assistance and was now able to enroll my son and my daughter at H.E.L.P. Miami. By the end of the first week, I had my son back! Ossiel would get up early and was excited to go to school. He even tried to go to school on days when he was not feeling well! (My son got mad in December because he found out that there would be two weeks of no school due to Christmas.) This is a major change.

I cannot say enough about Ossiel’s second grade teacher. Ms. Carolina is cheerful, patient, encouraging, easy to work with and always has time for me. She is an angel that God sent to bring my son back to me and to the world. Under her instruction, Ossiel is learning so much. He has learned about the planets and the human body. He does wonderful art that he proudly shows off. His reading and math have improved because the teacher is giving him material that is both challenging but is also at his level. He no longer gets “packets” of homework that I would spend hours explaining to him.

Since Ossiel has enrolled at H.E.L.P. Miami his test scores show an increase of 1 to 2 grade levels in core subjects and he has made the honor roll for the first time in his life–TWICE! I always knew he was smart and good and now my son also knows that he is smart and good. H.E.L.P. Miami confirms this every day.Another aspect of H.E.L.P. Miami that I would like to mention is that the staff encourage parental communication. If I have a question or comment, I get proper attention and do not feel “brushed off” as in the charter school. H.E.L.P. Miami staff also go to great lengths to keep parents informed of day-to-day activities. If my son gets hurt on the playground, I am called. If my son has an upset with another child, I am told. If my son acts out, he is not treated like some monster, he is allowed to give his side of the story, and his input is invited to solve the problem. I find the teachers and principal to be very professional and fair when addressing the children. It would be wonderful if H.E.L.P. Miami became the educational standard for all private, public and charter schools to live up to. This school saved my son’s life.


“My attitude about school has completely changed.”

Before enrolling at HELP Miami I struggled in two different public schools. I remember in kindergarten counting out loud “twenty-nine, twenty-ten, twenty-eleven” and having my teacher yell at me for being wrong. I remember being screamed at for not being able to read very well. None of this actually helped me learn. The attitude of the teachers was that if you couldn’t read or do math, it was your problem.

If I didn’t understand something, the teacher simply didn’t care. If I did raise my hand to ask for help the answer was usually, “I said it once, you didn’t hear it, we’re moving on.” I didn’t feel like I was learning. I didn’t have a favorite academic subject and I didn’t think I was good at any subject except art.

I was given multiple-choice tests before I even knew how to read properly. Because I didn’t know what the words were, I would just guess at the answers and I failed almost all the tests. My mom would ask me after school what I learned that day and I would just say, “Nothing,” and it was true.

Neither school treated me as an individual. I felt like I was a number or a file. That’s how all the kids were treated–Kid A, Kid B–it was horrible.

Thankfully my mother found H.E.L.P. Miami.

My first teacher at HELP taught me how to read fluently. I couldn’t even read the word “the” when I started but she worked with me and helped me sound out every single word until I could really do it.

Whenever I have a question or need help with something, I am encouraged to ask so I can get it cleared up. The teachers make sure that you actually understand things before moving on to the next. This seems like something you would expect in a classroom, but in my old schools the teachers would get annoyed or angry with me if I needed help so I was almost scared to ask.

Part of H.E.L.P. Miami is being taught how to study. Before I did the Learning How to Learn Course I had no idea how important knowing the definitions of words was. If you know what every word means in every sentence and in every paragraph, you will have a REAL understanding of what you are learning. I even help other students using what I have learned by getting them to look up words they do not know or go back to before they got confused to find the word they could not define.

My attitude about school has changed completely at H.E.L.P. Miami. I have favorite subjects and feel like I am good at them. Last year my favorite was debate because it helped me overcome my shyness. My teacher told me that I could have a career in public speaking as I did so well. I remember going home every day after school telling my mom all about what I learned and how great class was. I have discovered that I really love learning about politics, government and history. I want to go to college and continue studying which is something that I don’t think would have happened if I stayed in public school.

The teachers and staff really care and they treat every single student with individual attention and respect. My teachers really like teaching and that makes the students like learning even more. When you learn something at HELP Miami, you really learn it–not just to memorize information or pass a test but to actually remember it and use it later on. This has made all the difference for me and I feel like I am actually getting an education.


“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!


My Wonderful Child

“Mom, what’s wrong with me,” he asked, eyes filled with confusion and fear. “Will I have to take those pills?”“I don’t know, Fabian. I really don’t know,” I replied as I held his hands in mine, grasping for my child as if I were losing him. My wonderful, creative, intelligent child.

Fabian was overwhelmed in school and disliked going, but tried hard to do his best. His best was not good enough, though. They called him a “wandering child”, always daydreaming. “He may suffer from some sort of Attention Deficit Disorder,” the teachers suggested. If you look up the word “disorder” it means a disruption; a breach of public peace; a riot; a disregard of system; ill; deranged. My beautiful child “deranged”? I tried to do my best as a single mother with little time to devote to the overload of homework they gave him and the after-school PTA meetings. I also felt like a failure. I researched night after night on the Internet, trying to find answers. Soon Fabian was given evaluations in school, as he spent hours answering the social worker’s 70 and 80 question forms about his growing up. The teachers felt he might fail again; he was showing no improvement in the first 6 months of school. I felt I had no way out, and agreed to have him be part of a research study for ADD medication.

“I’m going to have to take drugs?” he asked me. “I thought you told me never to do drugs!” Boy, what a slap in the face that was. But I explained that some children need this extra help, not really believing in what I was saying. “It’s not really drugs, it’s medication.” Then I made his appointment for a Friday. Still trying to find answers, I sat in front of my computer on a Tuesday night. I recall sitting looking at the browser and my hands on the keyboard. “What is it I’m looking for? What does Fabian need?” Well, I could only come up with one answer. I began to type in the word HELP. Suddenly, to my surprise, something came up. I saw the initials H.E.L.P. What in the world is this? “Hollywood Education & Literacy Project”.

I began to read, and a crack on my closed doors began to appear. I emailed Charles Thomas who called me the following day and connected me with Barbie Rivera in Miami. I left her a message and got an immediate callback. I made an appointment with her on Wednesday evening and took Fabian with me. I recall sitting in her class filled with books, her desk with kids’ files and success stories, and a huge smile on her face. We sat and she looked at my son and said, “So Fabian, they tell me you failed sixth grade?” “Yeah,” he answered, with his chin down. “Well…I don’t think you failed; I think THEY failed.” Fabian’s face began to lift as he looked at Barbie with a face of astonishment and hope. I tried to hold my tears as I witnessed my son learn the biggest lesson of his life. “I’m not a failure.” Receiving his test results after three months and going from a 2.9 to a 9.8 (second grade to ninth grade) proved it. I’ve never seen him happier.

By the way… we never made it to the doctor’s appointment. I think they’re still waiting for us.

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