April 22, 2024

Unlock Your Full Potential: Neil Stasek’s Story

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?
What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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Kristina Stasek has been advocating for her son’s right to a high-quality education since he was diagnosed with Autism at two-years-old. Her son Neil, now a freshman at Mercyhurst University and an accomplished artist, dreams of becoming an animator at Cartoon Network. Neil credits his online public school education for providing him with the freedom to pursue his passion for art, when a traditional learning environment didn’t meet his learning needs.

“We had concerns that a [brick-and-mortar] public school environment was not appropriate for our son,” says Kristina. “We experienced bullying, and social issues as well as challenges ensuring that he could receive curriculum accommodations… in courses with a high level of academic rigor.”

When Neil was entering 5th grade, the family considered a variety of educational options and ultimately settled on Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA) for “their extensive social opportunities for their students” and due to the fact they could “work collaboratively with [the] school team” and he could receive an education “that enabled him to thrive.”

"This choice allowed me to pursue subjects like animation and image design," says Neil.

Thanks to the flexibility of online learning, Neil was able to maintain his GPA, extracurriculars, and service hours while building his portfolio over a two and a half year period. His flexible education also allowed him to enter art competitions, earning him local attention and fame. 

“The former Assistant Administrator at the Cleveland Institute of Art took a personal interest in evaluating Neil's portfolio over a two year period,” says Kristina. “She was impressed by Neil's artwork, private art instruction in the home, and art experiences outside of the home. She said that very few college students had had an animation class, let alone the amount of online art courses, art mediums and experiences that Neil had.”

In May 2018, Cleveland's Channel 19 News featured Neil, showcasing his successes as a student at OHVA. 

In 2021, Neil took a photograph at a local event center, Scene75, and submitted it to the "Lift Up Your Voice" Facebook Challenge organized by University Circle. The photo gained the attention of a reporter, leading to a full-page feature on Neil along with his self-portrait in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of the Full Circle publication. Scene 75 presented Neil with a $100 gift card and featured his photo on their website which can still be viewed to this day. 

Through the guidance of his Special Needs Transition Liaison, Cynthia Williams, Neil was able to immerse himself in the local art community, connecting with artists like Brian Jones, who provided valuable feedback and mentorship. Kristina says Cynthia, who was with the Ohio eSchool Families and Friends Coalition (now Ohio Parents for Education Freedom), was instrumental in encouraging Neil to use his voice to “speak up for himself and be heard.”

“I have been involved in school choice advocacy for six years,” says Neil. "To support disabled and underprivileged students, he believes "we can make sure that disabled students get the support they need to thrive in a classroom setting and succeed in life."

While enrolled at OHVA, he was honored to be selected as a Senior Student Ambassador for the Ohio eSchool Families and Friends Coalition, a role that had only been awarded to two other online students in Ohio since the program’s inception. This opportunity allowed Neil, despite a severe speech delay, to present to state representatives and their staff, sharing his story and advocating for the importance of school choice.

“Even with Neil’s speech limitations his communication with me through email proved to me that he was a very bright young man, very hard working, and I was sure he would accomplish so much in life!” says Cynthia Williams.

“When all of the college acceptance letters came in, including two from high-ranking art colleges,” Kristina knew all their hard work had paid off.

Graduation was the most memorable moment for Neil as well, stating that he "felt like I achieved so much.” 

Kristina and Neil’s story is a testament to how advocating for the best possible education has the power to unlock your full potential. 

“Don't let statistics, labels, traits, and challenges define your child. Hard, hard work goes a long, long way!” says Kristina.

View Neil’s artwork and awards on his website here!

Want to share your story? We want to hear it! Email jessie@parentsforschooloptions.org

More about Neil and Kristina:


Favorite Book: The Great Gatsby.

Favorite Quote:  "An eye for an eye and the world goes blind." - Mahatma Gandhi

Favorite Movie: Steven Universe the Movie.

Favorite Hobby: Video games, drawing, TV, and pickleball.

Coffee or tea? None.


Favorite Book- The Tiny Book Of Tiny Pleasures by Irene Smith and Astrid Van der Hulst.

Favorite Quote- "It is what it is."- J.E. Lawrence- The Nebraska State Journal, 1949.

Favorite Movie: Molly's Game.

Favorite Podcast: "Smart Less"- Sean Hayes, Justin Bateman, and Will Arnett.

Favorite Hobby: Upcycling furniture/items, supporting The Superhero project.

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