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In Support of School Choice
posted by: Melissa | January 28, 2023, 01:37 PM   

Imagine touring the school your child is supposed to attend and finding that it is not at all what you had pictured school to look like. My parents toured our neighborhood school in the 1980s and couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of an open-concept school building where each grade level had “pods” that served as classrooms and you could see and hear everything going on in all of the other pods. What my parents imagined when they thought about a good learning environment involved one teacher, desks in rows, in one classroom with four walls and a door, with no more than 15-18 students. This “pod” situation was not what they envisioned at all and luckily, they had several parochial schools to choose from as well in our area. It was important to my parents that the school align with their values, with a focus on rigorous academics and a grounding in their religious faith.


Because my parents chose a school outside of our neighborhood, I was able to stay in the same building until eighth grade and then matriculate into the only parochial high school in town. We moved often, renting homes in areas on the southern end of town, northern end, eastern side, and western side as well. Choosing a non-neighborhood school was a logical decision and aligned with their values and what they felt I would need: consistency. Had I been enrolled in a neighborhood school, every new house would have necessitated moving into a new school every six months to a year. When thinking about high school, they also worried that I would have gotten lost in a large, traditional high school with hundreds of students, multiple buildings, and all of the social issues that affected local high schools in the late 80s and early 90s. A smaller school community was important to them.


As a classroom teacher and now administrator, I see the benefits of school choice every day. I choose to teach in a public charter school that serves an underserved population: gifted students. These students have the opportunity to grow and learn in an environment in which they are seen for who they are and not the work they produce. They are in class with their idea-mates, not necessarily those who are the same chronological age. They are able to work at academic levels they are ready for, not the grade level their age dictates.  When they graduate and head to high school, most come back to visit and share how different their experience was with us and the ways our approach helped them grow into young adults who are able to advocate for what they need, take healthy risks, try new things, and approach learning as a lifelong process.


We have found that our staff members are grown-up versions of the students we serve, and a common theme that winds throughout their work is that they want to provide the type of academic home that they wish they would have had as kids: somewhere their strengths and interests were honored and somewhere they felt seen for who they were, not just for the work they produced. Most of our staff identify with characteristics of giftedness and that realization doesn’t hit until they see themselves in the students they serve.


When families tour our building, many see young versions of themselves in the classrooms: the one who can’t stop moving because they’re so engaged in what they’re doing, the one who is reading several levels above age-level peers or doing complex math for fun, and the one who is excited to learn as much as they can about one particular subject or topic…for multiple years and sometimes that leads to a career. They see a place where their children can grow and thrive to become their best authentic selves.


Because Colorado embraces school choice, local families have the opportunity to find a place where their child can grow and thrive, and sometimes that’s not their neighborhood school. Perhaps their values align with a classical approach, a military focus, or learning opportunities such as orchestra, theater, foreign language immersion, or outdoor, hands-on education. Perhaps a micro-school with very small classes is a better fit or a more traditional school with a large student body and a multitude of enrichment opportunities. Perhaps a diverse urban educational experience is important or a focus on a faith-based education is what they value.


Our educational system is no longer the springboard to tracked types of work. Kids today can grow up to do and be anything they can imagine…and change their minds several times! There is a place for choice in our schools. One may lead to an entrepreneurial spirit while another may foster a sense of advocacy or adventure or a wish to heal, serve, or create. I love that families have this opportunity to find the best fit for their children. There’s a place for every one of them.


Teresa Brown lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, serving as Dean of Student Support at Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning, A K-8 gifted focus public charter school. While her heart lies with third and fourth graders in particular, she has experience teaching all grade levels, enjoying each one.  Her goal is to positively impact educator understanding of gifted students and their needs and the importance of a child-centered focus in our educational system to support them while they become their best, authentic selves.


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