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Carlene’s Story: From Foster Care to Yale

carleneCarlene Ervin is a graduating senior from Aspire California College Preparatory Academy in the Bay Area who grew up in foster care. She will finally be leaving the foster care system when she begins Yale University next fall. Here she shares a bit of the challenges she’s overcome, her experience at Aspire, and her career goals.

What obstacles have you overcome?

My biggest obstacle was often myself. Growing up in foster care made me a very angry and bitter child. I didn’t trust anyone and felt like it was me against the world. My biggest obstacle was understanding that I wasn’t alone and if you let them, people will conspire to help you.

How has Aspire helped you?

Aspire has helped me by having amazing teachers who dedicated their time to work with me to improve in my education but also my character. It also gave me a sense of community that I could call my own. From my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Chai to my ex-math teacher/current Dean of Student Life at Cal Prep, Ms. Salazar

What is your college career goal?

My college career goal is to major in Political Science. I want to eventually go to law school and focus my attention on education reform on a state (and eventually national) level. I am inspired by the work that Aspire does in communities. I want to change things on a grander scale so that opening Aspire Charter Schools is an easier process.

Where will you be attending college?

Yale University!


This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Rashaun Bennett


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Liberty Common High School Receives Highest ACT Math Scores in Colorado

When graduation rolled around this month for Students of Liberty Common High School, they were smiling about more than graduation. Results from the Colorado Department of Education show that Liberty’s Class of 2014 earned the state’s highest composite ACT math score since Colorado first began requiring all high-school juniors to take the ACT exam. The scholars’ achievement marks the second year in a row that Liberty High School has achieved such an honor.

It is no surprise that the scholars have achieved so much success. At Liberty Common High School, the students are immersed in a classical liberal arts curriculum that rigorously prepares them for success in college. School principal Bob Schaffer says, “These scores are a reflection of a solid classical, college-preparatory curriculum we’ve built atop the powerful Core Knowledge Curriculum we use in grades K through eight.”

To add even more to smile about, the graduating seniors earned over $3.5 million in college scholarships. Among the many graduates going to college, three received appointments from the U.S Air Force, West Point and the U.S Naval Academy. Congrats Class of 2014!

Rashaun Bennett is a communications intern with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Kim Kober


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Charter Schools Make Strong Showing in US News Best High School Rankings

In April, U.S. News & World Report released its 2014 Best High Schools Rankings, and 24 public charter schools are among the top 100. Three of those public charter schools made it into the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2), Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#3) and BASIS Tucson North (#5).

U.S. News teamed up with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce the 2014 rankings. Public high schools were evaluated by their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work.

Public charter high schools are consistently over-represented in the top 100 of the U.S. News Best High Schools Ranking. This year, nearly one-quarter of the top 100 high schools are public charter schools, despite charter schools making up only 6 percent of all public schools in the country.

A full list of the top public charter high schools ranked by U.S. News is available on their website.

Congratulations to these charter schools recognized as the top public high schools in the nation!

Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Charter School Presence on “Challenge Index” High School Rankings Continues to Grow

Recently, the Washington Post released the results of its annual Challenge Index rankings that looks at college-level tests given at a high school and the number of graduates that year.  This year, the number of charter schools ranked in the top 100 reached an all-time high. Thirty-one public charter schools are among the 2013-2014 Challenge Index top 100 schools. Charter schools also make up half of the top ten—including #1, American Indian Public Charter (Oakland, CA); #2, Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory (Irving, TX); #3, Corbett Charter (Corbett, OR); #6, Signature (Evansville, IN); and #10, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ).

The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests given at a school in 2013, by the number of graduates that year (education columnist Jay Mathews answers Challenge Index FAQs here). The Index also notes the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career.

Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 of the Challenge Index.  Over the past four years, charter schools have comprised:

  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100
  • 2010-2011: 17 of the top 100

Public charter schools are over-represented on this ranking list compared to the percentage of charter high schools within the U.S. public high school system (only about 6 percent of all public schools). Congratulations to these public charter schools being recognized for providing a rigorous academic experience for their students.

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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Overcoming the Odds: Yasbad’s Story

Yasbad Senior PicNot only was Yasbad acclimating to a new country when moving to America from Ethiopia, the then middle school student was also getting to know his immediate family. Up until that point, Yasbad had been raised by other family members. In a new country, with a new language and customs, Yasbad was also getting to know his father.

Access to a better education prompted the family move, but Yasbad faced his share of challenges as he started school in America. He knew little English and was constantly bullied. With no one to talk to, he spent much of his free time in the library reading. For him, that extra time paid off. He quickly improved in school and is now looking forward to attending college.

This month Yasbad will graduate from Aspire Alexander Twilight Secondary Academy in California.  “Aspire has made me realize that no matter how different others are from me, I should respect them and their differences from me,” he says. “I have become more tolerant of others. Because of Aspire, I am ready to face any challenge that comes my way, and I am ready to help others with theirs.”

Yasbad is the first in his family to attend college, and will go to California State University-Chico next fall, where he plans to continue learning about the world around him. Yasbad hopes that by earning a college degree, he will be better prepared to give back to the important people in his life.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series during the month of June celebrating #30DaysofGrad. Click here to read other graduation stories from charter school students and schools across the country.

Danny Sosa


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Student Voices: Danny Sosa

Today’s featured student blogger, Danny Sosa, is a student at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston, TX. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 97% are low-income.  In his post, Danny talks about the defining role that YES Prep has played in his life so far, as well as his future plans. You can learn more about YES Prep Gulfton on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

This fall, I’ll be attending Colorado State University. For many students, college is their destiny, but for me, it could have just as easily been an afterthought. I’ll be the first in my family to attend, and I can still remember the day I was put on that path.

I was in the fifth grade, a YES Prep Public Schools recruiter walked into my classroom. I remember asking myself who this crazy white man was, and what he was trying to do by yelling at us about the importance of giving back to our community and going to college. I was eleven, so what did I care? Becoming a Pokémon master was my main goal at the time.

But Mr. Durbin was very convincing and when it came time to apply to middle school, I won a seat in the YES Prep Gulfton lottery. I was excited and just as equally nervous. As far as I knew, this was just a regular middle school. I didn’t expect it to be anything special; we were only one grade at the time, and we didn’t even have our own building. But what we lacked in size, our teachers more than made up for in heart and determination. Their enthusiasm and belief in the potential of each of us has pushed me forward from that very first day.

YES Prep is where I learned to care about my education, give back to the people in my community, and become a better person. I couldn’t have chosen a better school than YES, that’s for sure. I’ve had some of my best memories while engaging in the classroom with my teachers. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, they worked exceptionally hard to make our lessons engaging and even when I’d struggle to understand a concept, they would gladly help. (They give us their cell numbers and we can call or text when we get stuck on anything at home.) I had never earned Commended scores on any of my TAKS tests previous to coming here. It felt so good knowing I could perform well with hard work, and lots of support from people who wanted to see me succeed.

Soon after, I began seeing everyone around me as more than just friends or teachers. These people became my really-large-away-from-home family that wants to prepare me for the college experience. I started visiting universities when I was in sixth grade and when I got to high school, YES further prepared me by making me take seminar courses that required me to think more about what I wanted to do once I graduated. The major lesson I’m taking with me to CSU is that asking for help is a requirement to succeed. I appreciate all the experiences YES has given me, along with all the people who’ve been there working with us to pave a road as the first graduating class.

As I prepare to go to college to pursue a degree in what I love most, biology and animals, I get to be the first to show everyone in my family that it’s possible to be successful. Hopefully I’ll turn out to be an inspiration to all my younger siblings; I want them to continue working hard in school and not be afraid to reach higher.

Jasmine Claybrooks


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Parent Voices: Jasmine Claybrooks

Today’s featured blogger is Jasmine Claybrooks, the mother of Elyuz Lukes, a 7th grade student at Nashville Prep in Nashville, TN. The school’s student body 97% minority students, and 85% are low-income.  In her post, Jasmine talks about her experience sending her son to Nashville Prep, and the level of commitment she has enjoyed from faculty and staff. You can learn more about Nashville Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

When asked why I choose Nashville Prep School as the choice for my son, I had to think long and hard. Initially I thought of all the easy, common answers that people go to when asked about school choices: the teachers care, the curriculum is better, they spend more time individually with my child. All of the above reasons are true, but I choose Nashville Prep for very different reasons.  I choose Nashville Prep because after the initial community meeting, Ravi Gupta (Founder and Executive Director of Nashville Prep) had me excited about sending my child to school. I am a firm believer that teaching begins at home.  I felt like the school would be more than just a school, it would be an extension of home for my son, that the staff truly cared about our children and I could trust that he was getting the very best education that I could offer him.

I never once before had faith that teachers and staff at my children’s school were as invested in my child as I am. I believed Mr. Gupta when he said that he was fighting for our children regardless of where they lived, or what educational level that they were on. My son was not below his grade level, he actually is a highly exceptional child that was already a part of Metro Nashville Public School System ENCORE gifted learners program. Although a very good program, it didn’t extend into the classroom outside of the weekly class that they offered. At Nashville Prep, they keep the children engaged, and ready to learn, no matter what level that they are on.  I also liked the discipline that they expected from day one. The expectations from the students, parents & staff are clearly defined. They don’t let the small stuff pass, so the “big stuff” never comes to pass.  I love Nashville Prep and would recommend it to any parent looking for a school of excellence for their child.

Maria Nolasco Ramirez


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Student Voices: Maria Nolasco Ramirez

Today’s featured student blogger, Maria Nolasco Ramirez, is a senior at the Roseland University Prep Charter High School in Santa Rosa, California. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 90% are low-income.  In her post, Maria talks about her academic experience as well as her extra-curricular involvement at RUP. You can learn more about Roseland University Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

Anyone who has driven down Sebastopol Road and has come across a small purple warehouse does not realize that it is actually a high school. Some people are not fully aware of what Roseland University Prep (RUP) contains. Yes, the school is small. It is centered in the Roseland community and it is different from other high schools. What makes RUP Charter High School different is the rigorous A-G requirement classes that all students need to pass in order to graduate and move on to a four-year university. RUP is also different because everyone, staff and students, work together to move forward and build a better RUP.

There is no day that I regret my decision to attend Roseland University Prep for all four years of high school. When I was making my selection of high schools, I knew that I wanted to attend a high school that offered the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. Most of all, I wanted to attend a high school that would prepare me for a four-year university. That is exactly what I found at RUP. I have received endless support from teachers and counselors. I know that my teachers will set time aside to help me learn concepts that I may not understand. Coming to this school has opened my eyes to seeing the challenges that the Roseland Community faces. These last four years, I was fortunate to be a founder of a couple of school clubs. I helped start the Newspaper Club, the RUP Drama Club, and the Anatomy Club. Due to the popularity of the Drama Club, the school board approved a Drama class. RUP is definitely not the poor, small warehouse by the train tracks; it is home to future doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, psychologists, and future leaders. I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have been a RUP Knight all four years of high school.

AB Bustamante


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Student Voices: AB Bustamante

Today’s featured student blogger, AB Bustamante, is a charter school student at the Uplift Peak Preparatory High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 90% minority students, and nearly 93% are low-income.  In his post, AB talks about Uplift’s Road to College program and his plans after graduating high school. You can learn more about Uplift Peak Preparatory Academy on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

What has been the best part about being in the Road to College program?

“The best part about being in the Road to College program is having a dedicated and motivated college counseling team ready to assist me through the entire college process. There is nothing more satisfying and calming than knowing that I have four college counselors willing to set everything aside to help me file my taxes, fill out college applications, revise my essays, etc. Without their unrelenting help, my senior year would have been much more stressful, and I wouldn’t have sought the many scholarship opportunities they found for me.”

What are you most excited about for college?

“It was an exciting moment when I opened my letter of acceptance and offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy. I knew that the next four years would be the most challenging and demanding four years of my life. I’m excited to attend Plebe Summer after my graduation and undergo the transformation from a civilian to a midshipman. I am eager to discover the vast opportunities the Naval Academy will offer me to engage in politics in Washington D.C. as I pursue a major in Political Science. However, the most exciting thing will be graduating with my Class of 2018 and being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.”

What drives you to succeed?

“There is a motto among the elite fighting warriors, the U.S. Navy SEALs, which states, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” I have experienced the meaning of this motto firsthand. Being the eldest of three children and the only male figure in a household under the poverty line has been a challenging reality I have had to face since the age of 13. Seeing my mother struggle alone with the burdens of poverty enraged me but also motivated me to get a job to help my mom pay monthly expenses. Having a job and going to school at the same time has been tough, and although I doubted my efforts at times, I never quit. It was a drive within me that pushed me to face the next day’s problems with determination and confidence. I don’t plan to quit any time soon either; I plan to work in public policy/public administration to pressure our legislative body to enact policies to target and solve the rising problem of poverty in America. Although I can’t eradicate poverty completely, I won’t be satisfied until I reach something close to complete eradication.”

What are you most proud of that you have accomplished in your high school career?

“Being the first in my family to graduate from high school is the accomplishment I’m most proud of. My parents never reached high school, as they dropped out of sixth grade in Mexico in order to come to the United States. Graduating will not only make my parents proud, but I will also send a message to my younger sisters (both of whom attend Uplift Peak) that with a goal in mind and strong determination, nothing is impossible.”


Post originally published on Uplift Voices blog