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Determined Mom Earns High School Diploma at 22

Today’s #30DaysOfGrad post was written by Adali Ortiz, a recent graduate of Arizona Collegiate High School, right before her high school graduation. My name is Adali Ortiz. On May 22nd I will finally earn my high school diploma. I dropped out of high school because I got pregnant. I then stayed home with my daughter for two years until I could find somebody I could really trust to care for her. Two months before I turned 21, I tried to re-enroll at several high schools, but they wouldn’t take me because I was too old. My hopes were down because I didn’t want a GED. I preferred a diploma because I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter. I started to think I would never get a diploma, then came to Arizona Collegiate High School (ACHS) and got accepted. I said to myself, ‘This is my chance to work really hard!’ At 21-years-old, I was only a sophomore, so I had to work really hard to get good grades. I only had nine credits when I started at ACHS. In two years, I made up three years of school. I took online classes and came to school all day for 8 hours. My teachers at Arizona Collegiate have given me a lot of support and helped me with my classes. Every question I have, they help me answer it. They are always there for me. My husband and dad helped a lot too. Without ACHS I would be in a different situation because I tried to enroll in other schools and they wouldn’t accept me. ACHS gave me a chance to earn my diploma. It’s been worth all the struggles because I’m at the end now and everything is going great. I’m just waiting for the day to be able to reach for that diploma and have my baby run to me and give me a hug and show her that mommy made it. I want her to be proud of me. I want to work hard, have a career and give my daughter a really good education and everything she needs. My immediate plans are to be an interpreter at a children’s hospital. I’ve applied for the training classes that start in August. I also plan to go to college and work in the medical field. In life it’s hard because sometimes you find yourself in situations that you think you are not going to be able to keep up with, but if there’s a chance then take it! Everything will be worth it in the end. 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.

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Rosario’s Story: Dreaming of Better Health Care

FinRosario BHancial troubles meant that Rosario’s family didn’t always have healthcare. When visiting urgent care facilities, she noticed that those giving medical care to her family didn’t look like those receiving the help. Rosario vowed she would change that. That’s why she’s put so much effort into her schoolwork over the years. “School has always been my priority because I know what my parents have sacrificed to give me a good education and I know the benefits that come from having a college degree will be well worth the hustle put into achieving one,” she says. At Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy, Rosario was not only challenged by her teachers but given extra support when it was needed. Teachers made sure that she not only understood the material being taught but also how to analyze it, question it, and apply it to real problems that require reasoning skills. She was even pushed to apply to schools she didn’t think were within her reach – like Cornell. At Cornell University, Rosario plans to gain a better understanding of healthcare, both nationally and globally. She hopes to become a physician who supports her community through free clinics and workshops aimed at preventative treatment. 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.
Nina Rees

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Graduating Against the Odds

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) June is graduation season and this year, in particular, it’s nice to take a step back from often contentious debates over Common Core, teacher tenure, school choice and an array of other education reform issues, and recognize those students who have overcome the odds by graduating from high school and being the first in their families to attend college.

For instance, there are students like AB Bustamante. Bustamante just graduated from Uplift Peak Preparatory High School in Dallas – the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Throughout his years at Uplift, he also worked part-time to help his single mom pay the bills. Dedicated to hard work and excellence, he not only graduated high school, but secured acceptance to the United States Naval Academy. This summer, he will head to Annapolis with his sights set on becoming a Marine Corps Officer and one day working in public policy…read more here.

Nora Kern

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From Ghana to America to College: Matilda’s Story

matildaDuring a recent visit to the Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), I had the opportunity to talk with 12th grade student Matilda Patterson. In the interview excerpt below, Matilda discusses her favorite opportunities she’s had at CMSA and her plans after graduation.   Q: What do you like about attending your school? I like the fact that the teachers here are so welcoming. That wasn’t necessarily the case in other schools I’ve attended. They know your name, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work with you on things you need to improve. Q: What is your school culture like? The school culture is diverse. It’s very family-like. I’ve discovered so many cultures being here. I used to be in the Ivy League Mentoring Program (IMP)—a mentoring club that helped with extra ACT practice. We got partnered with a teacher, and after school and ACT practice, we would go with our mentor to reflect on stuff we learned in class. Even though participating in IMP meant giving up my Saturdays, I feel really lucky to be part of IMP. Q: How did your family find out about CMSA? My family is from Ghana, and we first came to America in Boston, and then we transferred to Chicago. My dad wanted me in any school because we had had a three month lag in our schooling during the move. Then we started hearing about charter schools. Family friends talked about CMSA. We were very lucky because CMSA had a mid-year spot open and we’ve been here ever since (Matilda has younger siblings who also attend CMSA). Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why? The band director; she is like a second mom to me…beyond just a teacher. To be honest, she knows me to the brink. She knows when to be strict like a teacher, and when to be there for her students. The band family is very strong. Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned this year? It has a lot to do with self-discovery: don’t care what others think and be yourself. Everything is easier said than done. When I came to America, from Ghana…my accent was hard to get over. My replies were slow and I had a hard time understanding other people. This made it hard for me to fit in…I participated in a ton of clubs to interact with people and learn American slang. I kept myself busy every day before I’d go home to do homework.  Junior year, I took college classes, and I took a speech class just to practice speaking…Senior year so much has happened that has affected me so much, looking back, I could have believed in myself more. Q: What are your plans after graduation? I will attend Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) this fall, and I want to major in health science or engineering and minor in business.   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. Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 

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Overcoming Violence: Esmeralda’s Story

Esmeralda Cortez“Kids growing up in Oakland grow up with guns instead of their toys, with drugs instead of their pacifiers, and with gangs instead of their families. When I was in the fifth grade my brother, Hernan Cortez, was murdered. I didn’t know how to react to any of it.” She was 11 at the time. In the days and months that followed, Esmeralda started acting up in school, getting suspended frequently, until she was finally expelled. Losing a brother and getting expelled from school was challenging for Esmeralda both academically and mentally. Fortunately, Esmeralda enrolled in Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy. Teachers and school leaders immediately stepped in, supporting her in classes and helping her cope with regular life stress. Esmeralda had teachers who challenged her, counselors who offered a little extra help when needed, and after-school programs to keep her safe and on task. Now, Esmeralda plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley. She’s unsure what path she’ll take. She could be a teacher, a politician, an activist. But whatever she does, Esmeralda dreams of making Oakland a safer place to live and to support the success of local teenagers. 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.
Nora Kern

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A Home and a Family at School: Daniel’s Story

NYOSDaniel Langford, a 12th grade student at NYOS Charter School in Austin, Texas tells us what he enjoyed about his high school experience–especially the many teachers who have influenced him–and how he feels prepared to achieve his future goals. Q: What do you like about attending your school? There’s so much! It was a big contrast from my old school. I got bullied in 4th grade, so my mom put me on the waitlist for NYOS. I got in in 5th grade. One of the main things I’ve seen that is different at NYOS is because it is so small, you get to know your teachers better. Because of the small student teacher ratio, you can go to them whenever you need to—which really helps your academics. I would stay after school in physics and the teacher would work out problems with me. Q: What is your school culture like? I love the school…I almost don’t want to go to college and leave. This is my second home. No matter what your home situation is, [NYOS] is a home for you. NYOS is a family, and we all know each other. That is very powerful. I can walk through the high school building, and I can turn to any person and they are there for me. Whatever it is, everyone is there for each other…We all respect each other. We can all graduate as friends. Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why? My freshman year, Mr. Thompson started band class. His personality and discipline is great for band. Our second band concert had so much energy. You can see that he really enjoys what he does, and students can see that. It’s obvious if you don’t enjoy teaching, and that impacts student learning. Ms. Hill was one of the hardest English teachers I’ve ever had, but I learned so much. You aren’t babysat in college and she helped prepare me for that. Mr. Pfaff had a quote, “never stop trying and never quit.” He’s an avid runner and I am too, so we connected through that. He chose to make a difference through teaching here. Mr. Sinkar – I had him for physics, and I was so blessed to have him. We had great projects and he cares so much. I had Mr. Perrmann for 11-12 grade band. He enjoys what he does. He’s really young, but that is nice because he can connect with the students. There’s a good mix of teacher experience levels here. Q: What are your plans after graduation? I want to go to ACC (Austin Community College) and get the basics out of the way and figure out what I want to do…maybe music. High school is an important time in your life because the choices you make mold you for later in life. If you’re stressed or make bad choices, your life could be different. Being at NYOS has prepared me for life. I’ll walk across the stage to get my diploma. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m standing. Enjoy life! 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.   Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

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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.