My first experience with school choice came in the fourth grade when I auditioned for, and was accepted to, John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School.
I attended Davidson from fifth grade until my high-school graduation, and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits of a world-class education coupled with superior fine arts instruction. With that foundation, I went on to the University of Georgia to earn a bachelor’s degree in English education and then to UCLA to attend the Principal’s Leadership Institute and earn a master’s degree in education administration.
Now that I am executive director of a public charter school, I am continually reminded not only of how I personally benefited from school choice, but of the benefits of school choice for everyone.
Several years ago, an eager fourth-grade student named James and his parents walked into my office and inquired about enrolling in South Carolina Connections Academy. I listened intently as James and his sister described the life-threatening food allergies that forced them to seek a school other than the one they were zoned for. Thankfully, James’ family was not bound by their ZIP code, and they were able to find a quality educational option for their children outside the confines of the traditional public school classroom.
TODAY, JAMES IS in seventh grade at South Carolina Connections Academy and is a stellar virtual school student. Changing schools was certainly the right decision for his family.
Now, instead of worrying about his safety, James’ family is celebrating his acceptance into the Duke University Talent Identification Program, where he has been invited to spend the summer.
While James is just one student who has benefited from school choice, his story makes me optimistic about the future of education in the CSRA. What if school choice had not been a reality for James’ family?
This week is National School Choice Week, and I am thankful for all the learning options that exist for every “James” across the country.
Today, families have a range of diverse options for quality education for their children in grades K-12, whether they attend their traditional brick-and-mortar public school; are homeschooled; attend virtual public school through South Carolina Connections Academy; go to a blended online/on-site public school; or choose to enroll their children anywhere in-between. Education is no longer one-size-fits-all, and not every educational institution is the right fit for every child.
FAMILIES OF STUDENTS who are hospitalized or homebound; who are training to be actors or professional athletes; or who learn at a faster or slower pace than their peers should be empowered to choose the academic environment that best cultivates learning in their children.
So many charter schools give students the option to learn over the course of a full calendar year or graduate early. Some states even have blended learning options that enable high-school students to spend four hours a day at school and the rest interning, volunteering, dually enrolled on a college campus or learning a trade skill.
Whether you are a parent, community member, educator or all three, I encourage you to learn more about the ways families are elevating the quality of education through choice by scheduling a school visit or attending a school choice event this week. Please join me and South Carolina Connections Academy in celebrating National School Choice Week and all of the quality educational options in South Carolina.
Let’s do it for James!
(The writer is executive director of South Carolina Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school and the state’s first virtual charter school.)