Traditional schools. The type of school we all know (and not necessarily love). We assume that school can never be fun, no matter what. It’s the same hour-long class periods, hour after hour inside the dimly lit never-ending hallways and lifeless classrooms, and essay after essay on the most boring things every day. What if I told you that there were other choices out there? That you could escape the cliques and the drama? Well, my friend, that would be a charter school. I recently started going to one this year and let me tell you, an amazing choice. Read on to discover more about these special public schools and be prepared to get knocked off your feet when you learn everything you’ve ever known about school is proven wrong!
What are they?
A charter school is a public, tuition-free school of choice. They were created to provide new and special opportunities for teachers, parents, students, and community members. Students get special opportunities to learn more independently and have new, exciting experiences to prepare for life ahead. They were established for the purpose of improving student learning, increasing learning opportunities for ALL students, encouraging the use of different teaching methods, creating new job opportunities for teachers, and expanding choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school systems. Unlike regular public schools, charter schools focus on preparing you for later in life in more ways than just education. They also teach you about good behavioral habits that can help you later in life. For example, at my school we have jobs to keep the school in good shape and help out the small staff. The school I attend is an Outdoor School, so
there are jobs like animal care specialist, trail maintenance manager, and photographer. The animal care specialist goes out and takes care of the animals once a week, giving them food and water and checking on them. Trail maintenance managers are exactly how it sounds; they keep the trail cleared off and in good shape. The photographer takes photos for the school website and yearbooks. In order to get these jobs, we have to apply for them. We created resumes and cover letters and sent them to the school’s superintendent. We then had interviews with her at specific times of the day, just like a real appointment. She read each of the applications over again with us in the room and asked us interview questions about our experience and our interests and then sent us on our way. Later, we received emails from her about whether we got the job or whether she thought we’d be better for a different one. I personally got an animal care specialist, the exact job I applied for. Doing the job of taking care of the animals each week makes me feel proud and deserving. Because of the resume and interview, it feels like a real job I’ve earned. I feel important and seen. That‘s what charter schools are all about! You don’t get opportunities handed to you, you work for them. You work to be able to go on hikes in cool places with high school seniors. (Yes! seniors!) Charter schools do not draw students from a certain area so it’s more diverse. If demand is high and the school exceeds space, students are usually picked by a random lottery.
What’s the history?
“Never be afraid to try something new because life gets boring when you stay within the limits of what you already knew.” Powerful quote, but Albert Shanker and Ray Buddle chose to make this their reality when it came to the public school systems. The original idea of a “charter school” first originated in the 1970s by a New England educator named Ray Buddle. It was then brought into light by Albert Shanker in the late 1980s. America then began testing charter schools more and more. When the results proved successful other schools and districts began experimenting with this new method of education. The Charter School Law (the law that establishes charter schools) became a law in 1991. In 2006 President George Bush made a great effort to push the Charter School Movement along. The presidential support did not stop there, though! President Obama continued the support of Charters when he revised the School Improvement Grants program and developed the Race to the Top Program providing a means of transforming underperforming public schools into Charters. Of course presidential support and funding initiatives have given charter schools an economic boost, but their support still lags VERY far behind what average public schools receive. Statistics show they only receive on average about 70% of their public school counterparts. It doesn’t seem like that should be so, especially considering the little number of students that attend the schools, but to this day many parents and citizens still don’t have open minds to these new methods. However, The Charter School Movement has made great strides across the country and continues to grow. There are at least 5,700 Charter schools in the country with a student population of over 2,000,000 students. Charter schools don’t just have an inspirational history, but a promising future. Charter schools give this nation’s youth a more promising future for years to come and I’m personally so excited to see how they evolve as I get older.
Some awesome pros
There’s a better chance of getting into top colleges when attending a charter school. Studies have shown that kids who attend charter schools have a higher chance of getting into top universities upon graduation than kids who attend a regular public school. There are tons of reasons for this, one of them being that charter schools are more flexible in their curriculum, being able to design it for individual students and their strengths. A student has the opportunity to work ahead if they’re ready. Really, there isn’t an “ahead” or a ceiling to learning. It’s common to even graduate early when attending a charter school. Another benefit is how it gives students a chance to begin college courses while still in high school.
There are much smaller classes. The total number of students in a charter school is much lower than those of a public school, so it’s easier to connect with peers because of how often they have to interact with one another. I’ve found that at my school, we all do so many cool things together that we’ve become like a family. We talk about ourselves openly without fearing being judged because we all know each other so well. In a grade of 80 kids, it’s impossible to go about being yourself without feeling judged or fearing being yourself, especially in middle school. I find that there’s absolutely no room for any cliques or bullying in our classroom because of the small number. The teachers are able to quickly pick up on bad energy and get it addressed before any type of argument is able to break out, which is so helpful. I had so much anxiety with fitting in growing up, but the dynamic of this school took one more thing to worry about away from me. Everyone at charter schools has this one thing in common; public schools simply didn’t work for them. They knew they deserved better, and that’s something to bond over. Also, since there are smaller classes, teachers are easier able to accommodate students’ needs and focus on mental health along with educating.
There are sophisticated alternated teaching approaches along with the customized curriculum. Charter schools are very thinking outside the box and a perfect place to experiment with different teaching methods. Since they experiment more often than other schools, they often find the most successful teaching methods before them. Most average public schools have to comply with rigid teaching approaches
so every grade level is expected; the same curriculum that the grade above you had the year before with the same school schedule each day. Charter schools flex each day so every day there’s a new surprise in the learning and activities.
It’s just more fun. In my whole public-school experience, I never once got to take care of llamas or go snowshoeing on the trails. Most schools didn’t even have their own trails! Here we do more than just learn. We take bike rides on the trail, discuss what we’re thankful for at the beginning of the day, (we haven’t missed a day yet!) and we make paracord bracelets just to learn about their history. The things we do learn are always super interesting and we learn them in a fun, interactive way. The fact that I’m free of the suffocating anxiety that once ruled my school days would already be enough to completely change my life. I have the school to thank for that one too because of the way the teachers accommodate for my personal wellbeing.
There are fewer students, which often means a limited choice of friends. It’s hard to get a game going at recess or have a gym class because of the limited number of students. I resolved these issues by signing up for as many sports and extracurriculars as possible to hang out with friends from the public school, but it’s still not quite the same as seeing these friends all day. Even when I do see these friends after school, I’m out of the loop with what’s going on during the school day.
There’s a massive workload for teachers. Since there’s such a small number of staff too, students often get the same teacher for every subject. The curriculum is also different than public schools and teachers have to make more of it up as they go along, which is extra work. Because we do more activities, it requires the teaches to have a lot of organizational work.
Charter schools are not as stable as traditional schools. If even one big incident were to take place, charter schools have more of a risk of easily getting shut down because of how small of a district it is. They operate on contract and can shut down at any time of the year.
To sum it up
Charter schools are an amazing opportunity that not many students get. There should definitely be more of them out there because this is the superior learning approach. I hope this post helped shed some light on a pretty new and at times unheard of school type. If you feel that the traditional school just simply isn’t feeling good to you, check and see there are charter schools nearby you, and don’t be afraid to give it a chance! Dare to be different. The world is already full of ordinary!
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