Sunday, January 24th, marked the beginning of National School Choice Week and I am very excited to be part of this movement as a Public Charter School teacher. This year, as a 5th Grade teacher, I have the opportunity to have actual conversations with my scholars on what is school choice and what it means to be part of the Charter School movement in New Jersey. It was an opportunity to share my story with my scholars and have them share their past experiences, since not all have been with our school from its inception 4 years ago.
My story began as a young child in the public education system in my home city. The oldest of five children in a single mother household, I was fairly bright, and most often times, was responsible for the care and welfare of my four younger siblings as my mom worked hard to support us. School was my safe haven, where I could just be a kid, but it didn’t meet my needs, or the needs of my brothers,who required specialized education, in the academic realm. I was advanced for my age, so I was always the mini teacher in my classes. This role helped me develop the skills I needed on my path to becoming an educator, but there was a lack of differentiation, and academic challenges to help me grow mentally. My educational abilities were not nurtured, rather repressed. The same was true for my brothers. They were placed in special rooms with teachers who did not believe in their ability, thus squandering their abilities to grow, putting in motion a future that lacked educational opportunity. These two perspectives led me to want to “know better and do better” and become the educator I am today. My experiences in the public education system fueled my passion for the School Choice movement. What I wanted when I was in school as a young girl is what I wanted to help establish in my city for our present generation.
School Choice is about empowering parents and students with the ability to CHOOSE the learning environment that best nurtures and supports each child’s specific needs. A one size fits all model to education is counter productive to student success. Of course, school choice is not just about charters, it is about all types of education; public, private, online and the like, and understanding how critical it is for all students, despite geographic location or socioeconomic status, to experience a quality education and guide them to success and the realization of their dreams.
As a teacher, school choice provides me with the ability to cultivate learning in a way that is meaningful to my students, with a curriculum and mission I believe in, while helping me realize my lifelong dream: to make a difference in my city and help every child believe in their ability to SOAR. As a Charter school teacher, I have the ability to work with administration to develop programming that is conducive to the learning of my students, and will help scaffold instruction for struggling learners, while also working to develop the skills and knowledge of my higher achievers. I am able to be a voice for the student and parent body, and their voices are both heard and valued, something I did not have in my educational experiences. School choice, as an educator, enables me to be the kind of educator I envisioned for myself while I was in school: proactive, passionate, empathetic. I am provided the opportunity to change up what isn’t working and push further with what is, something that could take years in other educational realms.
It is my hope that as our voices are heard and we stand strong this week, the School Choice Movement will continue to grow and inspire others, as it did me, to help bring to fruition true choice for all families in America.