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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.
Jose Serrano

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Student Voices: Jose Serrano

Today’s featured student blogger, Jose Serrano, is a charter school student at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has a student body made up of almost entirely minority students, 90% of whom are low-income.  The son of a single mother in a low-income household in Chicago, Jose was recently accepted by Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship to study astrophysics. In his college admissions essay below, Jose talks about what he’s overcome to get where he is today: college bound with a bright future ahead. There is soreness that sits on my lower back indefinitely. It comes from sleeping on a worn out, second-hand couch the last ten years of my life. The couch and I reside in a one bedroom apartment with my mother. This is the place I call home. My couch is a deserted and lonely planet; I get to escape this planet during the day, but I must return to my lonely planet every night. This one bedroom apartment has been the most challenging and enlightening part of my life. Every night, on my dank couch, I would dream that space was my escape out of my living situation. Every night, I would look up through my window and see the beautiful dark sky, illuminated by the moon and the stars and wonder what it felt like to leave all my hardships at home and live in the peace of space. There would be no soreness in space; I would have nothing to worry about. I did not have privacy, and it took a toll on me. I was embarrassed to invite friends over. When friends wanted to come over to study or get group work done, I would tell them that my mom did not allow it instead of the truth. I was ashamed because I felt that my friends would make fun of me for sleeping on a couch and somehow think less of me. It seemed like the couch followed me everywhere I went. The soreness in my lower back was revived by sitting down in class. It reminded me of waking up on the foamless couch every day. I was orbiting from my lonely planet to school and back on a daily basis. School was a planet I loved because I did not have to deal with the couch that was waiting for me. My lonely planet never left my mind. From taking the ACT to school work, I was challenged with being able to focus, and my body told me to give up. That seemed like the easy path out. I pushed away the thoughts of giving up by reminding myself of my lonely planet and finished the ACT and school work with my best effort. In high school, it was like breathing in the troposphere- not the stratosphere; I developed a mature view on my living situation. I knew that this couch would not get the best of me, so in order for me to be successful in life, I had to accept my lonely planet. I was not afraid to talk about sleeping on a couch to my friends because I knew that if my friends were truly there for me, they would not think differently of me. My couch was my Earth; it did not seem as emotionally painful anymore. My couch inspired me to work harder for what I want in the future. I began to see that I had a fascination with all things outside of this Earth and my couch. All of those nights of staring into the universe meant something. The passion ignited like a bursting gamma ray in Physics. I had opportunities through school to study Physics. I decided to take an additional after school honors physics class in order to grow stronger in the subject. I realized that I want to study Astronomical Physics in college because I want to help discover new planets and solar systems. Sleeping on the couch reminds me of what I do not want in my future. I have nothing against sleeping on the couch now because my lonely planet has allowed me to become the person I am today. I look forward to college because I will leave my lonely planet and sleep on a warm, soft, and comfortable bed. The soreness in my back that has followed me throughout my life will finally be healed.
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
Togtuun Munkhtsetseg

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Student Voices: Togtuun Munkhtsetseg

Today’s featured student blogger, Togtuun (Todd) Munkhtsetseg, is a charter school student at the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Green Valley Ranch High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 93% minority students, and over 70% are low-income.  In his post, Todd describes how his school has equipped him with the skills and determination to enter a four-year college after graduation. You can learn more about DSST on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard. Today I had the opportunity to visit University of Northern Colorado and experience life on a college campus.  Since freshman year, I have had the pleasure of visiting CSU Ft. Collins, CU Anschutz, CU Boulder, and UNC.  I have always thought this is an opportunity that all schools offered.  However, once I talked with my friends, I realized DSST is somewhat unique for providing this opportunity. Although DSST is challenging and rigorous because we are held to such a high standard every day, the opportunities DSST offers, such as college visits, give me the motivation to work harder than I thought I could.  There are many times people have thought of quitting and attending another school, but then we remember the fact that DSST’s rigor has allowed us to be more prepared for college. Our core values (Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Doing your best, Courage, and Curiosity) shape us to be mature young adults. When I do not live by my core values I am constantly corrected or reminded by my teachers that I can do better. The high standards at DSST encourage us to surpass our limits. Our preparation for the ACT is an example of DSST’s high standards.  At DSST, since day one of freshman year, we have been encouraged to show our full potential in every situation.  On the day of the ACT, I never felt more ready.  Because we had received lots of ACT prep throughout my time at DSST, I knew I could excel on the ACT. Another thing that makes DSST so unique is the community.  An example of our strong community is morning meeting.  Every day we gather as a school for the morning meeting.  When I sit in the meeting, I feel extremely happy as I look around at all of my peers’ and teachers’ faces. I know I could approach any one of my classmates and feel welcomed. I also know my teachers are willing to stay after school longer if I am facing challenges in my academics. Their willingness to ensure my success makes me realize that my teachers truly care for their students.  For example, we have a test every week for our classes and one of the hardest classes at DSST is Biology.  My teacher, Mr. Wick, stays late to help me out.  I can recall a time that the entire class was struggling with a standard and he held a tutoring session to make sure we all mastered it.  It is these little actions that create our strong community. I am very proud to be a raptor because without DSST, I know that I would not be as prepared to get into a four year college.  I would also be without this welcoming community.  I know all my hard work at DSST will pay off once I am accepted to a four year college.  This opportunity could not be possible without DSST.
Andrew Schantz

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Over Half a Million Students Attending CA Charters, 91,000 Remain on Waitlists

The California Charter Schools Association announced this week that nearly 548,000 students are enrolled in public charter schools across California for this school year. Additionally, with 87 new charter schools opening their doors this year, the total number of charter schools in California has reached 1,184.

Year after year, we see parents demanding the kind of high-quality educational options their children deserve in the form of charter schools. This year is no exception. In fact, there are 91,000 students on waiting lists in California.

Evidence over the past five years shows that the public has never been more supportive of public charter schools than they are right now based on growth in charter school enrollment, waiting list numbers, and polling data. This growth in support has happened during a period when public charter schools have been held more accountable than traditional public schools, and have strengthened their performance, especially with underserved students.

California’s charters are getting academic results. That fact is undeniable. We see that the number of charter schools making gains in student achievement is growing. At the same time, charters that aren’t succeeding with students are closing. In the 2013-14 school year, 34 charter schools closed. Of those with academic data, more than half (13) were among the lowest performing charters in the state. Overall, this means that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

We anticipate continued growth over the next several years, as momentum builds for what has already been a very robust growth picture for charter schools in California. 

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Andrew Schantz

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#Thankful4Charters

The season of thanksgiving is upon us, so it’s the perfect time to be thankful for charter schools. Here are six reasons why we’re especially grateful for charter schools at the National Alliance:

Charter school leaders aim to hire talented, passionate, and qualified teachers who will boost student achievement and contribute to a thriving school culture. Charter schools also have the freedom to ensure that the teachers they hire are not only qualified, but produce results for students and families. Furthermore, the public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs that work better for the students they serve, while being accountable for student achievement.

Interested in contributing your talents to the charter school community? Check out the charter school job board here.

In exchange for greater flexibility, charter schools are held to high standards and are accountable to the public. Charter schools introduce an unprecedented level of accountability in public education. They are uniquely accountable to the public because they sign contracts with a government-endorsed authorizer explaining how the schools will operate and the results they will achieve. If they don’t produce these results, their authorizer has the power to work to immediately fix these schools. Conversely, traditional public schools can fail for years – even generations – and never be closed down for bad performance.

Charter school students are excelling academically. Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their traditional school peers. For example, the 2013 Stanford CREDO national study found that overall, students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average of seven additional days of learning per year.

Charter school students are also achieving remarkable results on a global level. Read our latest report to learn about how charter schools are preparing their students to be competitive with students across the world.

This year, 21 charter schools were among the 287 public schools throughout the nation named 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Read more about this award and the charter schools honored this year.

Despite public charter schools making up only 6% of public high schools nationwide, they have been a continuous presence on national ranking lists. See how charter schools stacked up on four major lists.

Want to see what the future of learning looks like? Look no further than public charter schools. At their inception, charter schools were designed to be laboratories for innovation in education, and that spirit is alive and well today. Charter schools are using their autonomy to push boundaries to better serve students, creating lessons that can be refined and shared throughout the public school system. Furthermore, the charter school model is an innovation in itself. Time and time again, charter schools are proving that a governance structure that provides autonomy from politics and bureaucracy can yield outstanding results for students.

Learn more about what next generation learning looks like in a recent report published by the National Alliance and Public Impact.

Charter schools are arming students with knowledge for success in college, career, and beyond. And that all starts with a high school diploma. YES Prep Public Schools in Houston and Memphis, Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, and Aspire Public Schools in California are just a few examples of charter schools that pride themselves on 100 percent high school graduation. The success that students experience while attending a charter school also travels with them through college. Nationally, only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. But charter schools like Boston-based Match Education, serving primarily low-income and minority students, has a college completion rate of nearly 4.5 times higher. Read more of these stories here.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research found that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Read it here.

Charter schools are public schools, which means their doors are open to all students. According to federal law, they must accept all students, including students with disabilities and English Learners, regardless of previous academic performance. In fact, charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools.

Kids dream big in small towns too. Watch our video about how charter schools are creating high-quality learning opportunities for students in rural America.

Learn more about how charter schools serve all students through our Truth About Charters campaign.

 

Andrew Schantz

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California Charter Schools Association: Portrait of the Movement

In late August, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released its fourth annual Portrait of the Movement, a report that tells the story of what has happened in California’s charter school movement over the past five years, why it has happened, and what can be done to ensure continued growth and momentum. 

Trends highlighted throughout Portrait of the Movement, Five Year Retrospective: A Charter Sector Growing in Numbers and Strength indicate that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

The California charter schools movement is large and diverse and now serving over half a million public school students. This number is growing every year and more importantly, these students are making significant improvements in academic performance. That performance has been driven by the growth of quality schools and the closure of underperforming schools.

Our research shows that charters have made improvements in academic performance during a time of explosive growth in enrollment, and during a severe funding crisis in California that disproportionately affected charters. We’ve highlighted many of the key findings from the report on our website.

I am delighted that CCSA’s research, recent findings from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes and the National Alliance for Public Charters Schools, as well as other national data all continue to point in the same direction – that charter schools are performing incredibly well, especially with historically underserved students. Even better, they’re improving over time.

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Andrew Schantz

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Charter schools fuel the conversation at SXSWedu

Last week I joined 5,000 education pacesetters, practitioners, and professionals at SXSWedu – the world’s premier education innovation conference. Throughout the numerous sessions I attended and the countless people I connected with, one thing stood out – charter schools were the talk of the town in ATX.

For instance, when asked about breakthrough ideas happening in Chicago during a panel titled “Redesigning School as We Know It,” Ben Kutylo from Chicago Public Education Fund was quick to list several charter schools that had broken the mold of traditional school design. He mentioned Intrinsic Schools in particular, which has completely reinvented the physical makeup of a school. Picture Google-esque open floorplans and funky furniture. No neat rows of desks that you typically see in a school. (Edsurge just published a profile on the school if you want to learn more). Kutylo’s fellow panelist Johnathan Tiongcho from Alliance College-Ready Public Schools spoke about the ability of his schools to utilize diverse classroom models that are tailored for delivering instruction most effectively. The unique culture and focus on student-centered learning truly makes Alliance schools a place where students want to be.

The larger school choice community also had a strong presence at SXSWedu. Howard Fuller, civil rights leader, chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and founding board chair of the National Alliance, led an empowered discussion on his life’s work. He spoke about his belief that an education system that utilizes a variety of choices – including charter schools – will benefit our nation’s children by giving them access to what best suits their needs. Our friends from the American Federation for Children hosted a session where Chairwoman Betsy DeVos offered several “inconvenient truths” about education reform. DeVos highlighted the importance that families have a choice in where their children attend school because a system in which student needs are front and center ultimately leads to better outcomes.

Another panel discussion featured Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA Public Schools alongside Mary Wells from Bellwether Education Partners, and Superintendent of Schools for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD Daniel King. They led in an informative conversation about how charter schools and independent school districts can become effective partners for the benefit of students they serve. While Torkelson pointed out, “there is no reason for districts and charters to not have these kinds of partnerships,” Wells noted that in order for district-charter partnerships to be successful, there has to be buy-in from everyone involved. And more importantly than being a win-win for the schools themselves, they need to be a win for students.

Finally, during Wednesday evening’s keynote session, Emily Pilloton of Project H gave an inspiring talk about how her organization uses architecture as a lens for teaching youth to be leaders and builders of the future. Currently, her program is housed at Realm Charter School in Berkley, Calif., and gives students the ability to apply core subject knowledge to building “audacious and socially transformative projects.” If you want to get a better idea of the great things that Project H is doing, be sure to check out the documentary that tells the story of the program’s first year.

While the makeup of conference attendees ranged from founders of ed-tech startups to classroom teachers and school leaders, one thing was clear – regardless of their background, SXSWedu attendees recognized that the charter school movement continues to be a true force of innovation. It’s clear that the role of the charter school movement has played in instrumental role in shaping the conference, and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come.

SXSWedu is a true celebration of creative solutions to solve some of education’s largest problems, and it’s exciting to see charter schools at epicenter of this conversation.

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Join us at the National Charter Schools Conference to pick up where SXSWedu left off. Network with thousands of attendees, participate in engaging breakout sessions, hear from inspiring keynote speakers, and discover how charter schools are creating a chance for every child. Find out more information here.

andrewatsxswedu

Andrew Schantz

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5 Ways to Make This Year’s National Charter Schools Week the Best One Yet

We still have a few days to go before National Charter Schools Week kicks off, but there are plenty of things you can do to start the celebration early and get in the #CharterSchoolsWeek spirit!

  1. Change your profile picture to one of our official Charter Schools Week badges! Whether you’re a charter school parent, student, administrator, or advocate, we have a badge for you!
  2. Invite elected officials to your school. National Charter Schools Week is the perfect opportunity to show off the great things that are happening in your school. Use our guide to plan a visit for local, state, or federal elected officials. And be sure to let us know if you need any help setting one up by contacting us here.
  3. Tell us why you love charter schools! Print out a template, take a picture or video, and share it with us on social media using #CharterSchoolsWeek.
  4. Set a calendar reminder for Wednesday, May 6 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the #CharterSchoolsWeek tweetup! We’ll be sharing some tweets that morning for you to use, but in the meantime, click here to get the conversation started.
  5. Know a charter school student who loves to write? Encourage them to submit an entry for the first-ever Charter Schools Week Student Essay Contest! Get the details and submit essays by Friday, May 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET by clicking here.

Lastly, are you planning an event for Charter Schools Week in your state or community? Be sure to let us know!

For all the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter and like our page on Facebook.

Looking forward to celebrating with you next week!

 

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Andrew Schantz

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Startups and Charter Schools: How Some Fresh Ideas Can Help Address the Challenges Schools Face

I recently had the opportunity to attend the first of 16 Challenge Cup events hosted by 1776, a startup incubator here in D.C. that the National Alliance has partnered with to help connect innovators and educators. When I entered the room where the startup showdown would commence, the energy was contagious. Hundreds of startup enthusiasts (including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray) were gathered together to identify and celebrate promising startups tackling big challenges in four categories: education, energy, health, and cities.

While listening to 60-second pitches from the ten startups in the education category, I was intrigued by the way each of them had the potential to help public charter schools better serve students. Here are just a few examples of some of the challenges charter schools face and the ways these innovative startups may help provide much-needed solutions.

Funding
Charter schools receive 70 cents to the dollar for per-pupil funding when compared to traditional public schools. As a result, finding funds to pay for special projects to enhance learning can be a challenge. Enter edbacker: a service that allows educators to raise the money they need for important education-related projects, programs, and events. This platform could help charters raise necessary funds to continue offering high-quality, innovative learning opportunities for students.

Teacher Collaboration
Nearly 70% of charter schools are single-site schools and do not belong to a regional or national network. Educators at these standalone charter schools do not always have access to a diverse group of peers to help them hone and improve their skills. That’s where KickUp comes in. This on-demand support network for teachers allows them to find thought partners, mentors, and inspiration within and outside of their network. Teachers can post a challenge they’re facing in the classroom to a closed, secure network. Expert-appointed members of the network address those challenges via video session or mobile chat.

Parental Engagement
Students learn concepts in the classroom differently today than their parents did, so it can be difficult for parents to be involved in their child’s learning at home. Homework Unlocked is coming to the rescue. This online resource library of videos, quick-reference guides, dictionaries, and audio podcasts allows parents to learn the content that their children are learning in school, and in turn help them out with their homework.

Have a solution to an education problem you’ve identified? Check out five guidelines for innovation success from Nina Rees in her latest U.S. News Opinion column here.

Andrew Schantz is the communications and marketing coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.