In January 2011, an Ohio mother was convicted and sentenced for falsifying her residency records to send her children to a better school district.
Sounds a bit absurd, doesn't it? To be punished for simply wanting better for your children.
It was this moment where as a parent, at that time of a 2-year-old, that I decided to be a supporter of school choice. As I pondered over that story, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone cared about the reason why Kelley Williams-Bolar did what she did. Perhaps, the school district of her residency housed schools that were in bad neighborhoods, where crime and unruliness went unhinged. Perhaps the school district of her residency housed schools that didn't offer a level of educational and social support that she felt was best suited for the needs and development of her children. Or, perhaps it was just a matter of convenience, to send her children to a school in a different district to coincide with her commute to or from work and the work hours along with such. Or perhaps, she just wanted to give her children an opportunity that she wasn't afforded in her own public school journey where being mandated to attend your zoned school, was a norm.
I grew up in that norm. A norm where being forced to attend a zone school within my district was based on my residence and not my intellectual, social or developmental needs. It essentially says because you live here, this is the type of school you're subjected to attend. So, if I wanted to attend a school that had a junior badminton team, a concert band, a fine arts curriculum, or (considering my K-8 experience was during the 90s) an early STEM curriculum, I had a good chance of some or none of those options being available to me. This is because the school in my district, didn't have the resources to provide such an opportunity. Another challenge I faced growing up, was the fact that I lived in an urban, high crime neighborhood. This meant that the same kids who were getting into trouble on the streets, were likely to bring that same trouble to the school we were all mandated to attend, simply because of where we lived. The only thing my parents could do was prepare me for any scenario, was to give me emergency contact numbers and plans in case something happened, and pray that I made it to and from school safely every day.
As a parent now, I never wanted the same for my child. It all clicked once I heard of Kelley Williams-Bolar's story. Her story made it very clear to me that school choice was the way to go.
Luckily by the time my daughter was of school age, charter schools were on a meteoric rise. I was glad to know that I didn't have to subject her to a mandated school placement based on my residence. Instead, I had choices. I could choose a charter school with specialized curriculums to fit her learning needs, or one with smaller classrooms so she could have more one-on-one attention. I had the option of choosing a charter school that used project-based learning or one that blended basic skills with fine arts. I could choose a charter school that has created a strong pipeline and relationship that could take my child well into high school and college. I could choose a charter school that was close to my home, or my job, or my daughter's grandmother's house.
Having a choice allows me to craft the best options for my daughter. I'm thankful for charter schools and the option to choose.
Carlos J. Avent is a native of Baltimore, Md. He is a father and husband, as well as a writer and skilled professional in higher education. Currently, a manager for Laureate Education focusing on student success and retention of online adult learners, Carlos is also an alumni of Baltimore City College (c/o 2001) and Morgan State University (c/o 2006) where he earned a B.A. in Sociology. In 2013, Carlos graduated from Walden University with an M.S. in Higher Education and a certification in Instructional Design and Technology. As of 2012, Carlos has been serving on the board of the alumni association for Baltimore City College.