Public Charter Schools

Posted by  | Wednesday, May 27, 2009  at 10:58 PM  
I’m Cheryl…and I am admittedly approaching the opportunity to “blog” with much fear and trepidation! Mostly because I am slightly afraid I may like it toooooo much and go on and on and on and on….and well – you get the idea! =) But, Leah asked me…and although I am trying to learn to say “no” more often…I really feel led to share a little about our experience with many different schools and why we ended up choosing a charter school (or maybe how the Lord directed things so that “it” chose us!!). But school choice is certainly something I am passionate about…so here goes! =)

I grew up in public schools (in CA), as did my husband (Steve - in NY), and continued through college, spending 2 years in a “Christian” college before I transferred and graduated from a state university. Steve also graduated from a state college associated with a private university. Education was a priority in both of our homes and we knew it would continue to be a priority in our own home as we started our family. Early in our marriage, we were close friends with a couple who were both raised entirely through Christian schools and a Christian college and witnessed some of their struggles in trying to fit into the “real world” later on. This, along with financial considerations, admittedly somewhat biased us early on against a “Christian school” upbringing for our own (eventual) children!

All that to say that when we did have our own children and looked at the options, we were committed to being intentional about our choices. Kevin is 15 and a freshman this year at Franklin Academy, a charter school in Wake Forest, NC. Rachel is 13 and in 8th grade at the same school. We have moved quite a bit due to Steve’s job with the federal government, so we actually have a pretty broad spectrum of experience that we’ve drawn from in arriving happily and gratefully at Franklin Academy!

Before Kevin ever began school, I had been praying about homeschooling for quite awhile. We had many friends who homeschooled and it was actually my first choice. Steve wasn’t a huge fan of the alternative…so I did quite a bit of research to present it to HIM as the best option! At the time, we were living outside Phoenix, AZ where charter schools were already fairly common. We lived in a new area that was just beginning to be developed and were within a few blocks of both a public school and a charter school. After MUCH prayer, and my inability to convince Steve that homeschooling was a better plan, we enrolled Kevin in the charter school. The Lord was faithful to give us both peace about the choice and I prepared to start a Moms in Touch prayer group for our school.

We were delighted with the environment the charter school provided: a large amount of overall parental support & involvement (typically more in charter schools – in my experience – than in regular public schools), the focus on academics (full-day K instead of the state’s normal half-day, for example), and opportunities to interact with a variety of different children & adults. We were only halfway into the school year, though, when we found out that we would be moving to WA. The school our children would be attending heavily influenced our choice of where we would live. Kevin completed Kindergarten in a “regular” public school on a half-day schedule and Rachel began the following year at the same school. I began a Moms in Touch prayer group for our school and began substitute teaching. I also continued to pray for direction from the Lord that would enable me to switch to homeschooling!

When we found out that we would be moving AGAIN in December of Kevin’s 2nd grade/Rachel’s 1st grade year, I was fairly confident that finally the Lord would lead us to homeschool. Steve had a MUCH more positive view of homeschooling than he had before because we were surrounded in both AZ and WA with wonderful homeschooling families. As before, we chose our home in NC more based on the elementary school in the area than any other single factor, even while we prayed about the Lord allowing us to school our kids ourselves. However, the Lord made it clear that He wanted our kids in the state school system each year as we re-evaluated and prayed about the upcoming school year. I continued to volunteer in the classroom, frequently work as a substitute teacher and began another Moms in Touch prayer group!

At this point, we felt the Lord was leading us to stay in the area, rather than continue to move every few years for Steve’s job…and I began to look ahead to middle school and high school. While I was delighted with the elementary school the kids were attending, the middle school and high school they would have attended were VERY ALARMING! I believe that there is great value in having Christian families involved within the public school system. It was my privilege to pray for kids in those schools as I subbed & volunteered who may not have had a single other person praying for them! We also had the opportunity be “salt & light” that we would not have had if we hadn’t been IN the school. BUT…I wasn’t sure I was ready or willing to “sacrifice” my kids to the darkness I was witnessing in the middle school & high school. As kids grow, mature and develop…by God’s design, our influence as parents necessarily diminishes over time and outside influence increases. I was determined, though, to have some control over what those influences would be and to be aware of the values, attitudes, lifestyles, and character of the influential people in my children’s lives. I had heard excellent things about a charter school 30 minutes away, but had also heard how impossibly difficult it was to make it in through the lottery system. We discussed Christian & secular private schools but we determined they were not an option due to distance and finances. We prayed about and considered the leap of faith it would take to let go of our kids and keep them in the regular public schools. I was more and more certain that homeschooling was where the Lord would lead us sooner rather than later! Then…the opportunity to move both of the kids to Franklin Academy (the charter school I had heard so much about) came along in an unexpected TOTALLY God-way!

Even with all the research I’d done, I would have to admit that the “choice” to have our children attend a charter school was actually made almost by default. But we had faithfully prayed about school choices each year and throughout the school years…and had intentionally evaluated the options we felt were available to us. I absolutely believe the Lord blessed those efforts by leading us to Franklin Academy, even when we hadn’t seriously sought that alternative…He is sooooo faithful, even when we “miss” an option that is in His plan!

I realize I’ve spent most of this blog talking about what LED us to the charter school option…that’s because many of those experiences have enabled us to appreciate the benefits we’ve experienced since starting here. Some of these benefits may be specific to the mission and philosophy of our particular charter school…and certainly they also reflect the dynamics of how our children’s personalities and learning styles mesh with the specific school. But…I also think many of the benefits would be similar for other families exploring the various schooling alternatives.

Our school is an academically focused year-round school that offers a great deal of structure for students. We have appreciated the smaller class size (25 max), school uniforms, and the high standards that are enforced academically and behaviorally. They level all math and language arts classes through the 8th grade, so every student is in an environment where they conceivably have the opportunity to excel in the basic subjects. The brighter students are challenged, average students can shine, and the students who struggle academically aren’t left behind. In terms of discipline, because attendance is by choice, students who don’t respond well to the structured environment typically switch to other alternatives. In the middle school our kids would have attended, the disciplinary issues frequently involve weapons, drugs, and other frightening ‘real world’ scenarios. However, at our school, the issues are more likely to be dress code infractions, ‘moderately’ disrespectful behavior, and classroom disruption.

One of the benefits we hadn’t anticipated is related to the lack of school-provided transportation. Our school draws students from at least 3 different neighboring counties. Each family is responsible for getting their children to/from school. This requires that parents have a certain amount of commitment invested in their children’s attendance. I believe this requirement alone draws and retains families that are WILLING to be involved in their child’s education. The overall level of parental involvement is much greater than what I experienced in ‘normal’ public schools. Additionally, having more adults involved seems to reinforce the accountability students have for their behavior and their academics. We have experienced a family-friendly atmosphere – in part due to the interaction between parents – but also from the relatively small size of our school (there are typically 4 classes of 25 students per grade). Our experience here has been surprisingly free of the ‘cliques’ that are so common throughout a child’s typical education. Additionally, our kids’ have had MUCH less exposure to drugs/alcohol/swearing and other behaviors that are inconsistent with our values because of the structured environment where parental involvement is not only encouraged but required!

Because this school alternative IS so attractive to parents who desire involvement, the overall tone has been extremely positive and accepting. My perception is that there are a much larger percentage of students and teachers who are believers than in the typical public school. Because charter schools are publicly funded, there are still some restrictions on curriculum, but they do seem to be allowed more freedom than we had seen in the ‘regular’ public schools. For example, sex education (they call it something else, officially) is taught at our charter school but parents are allowed to choose whether or not their child will participate. The curriculum is abstinence based and even when it’s been taught by non-Christian teachers, it has reflected more conservative values than what I understand is being taught in most public schools or being broadcast on network tv!

Although our school is academically oriented, there are still a variety of athletic opportunities available each season. The school also acknowledges the value of the arts and has an excellent band program, and a growing theater department. The small size of the school actually allows students to participate in a larger variety of extracurricular activities and has produced students that are quite well rounded! This seems to contrast with many large public schools where students seem to almost be forced to ‘specialize’ in a particular area: sports OR music OR drama. We have also appreciated that our children have been taught to make music as part of both concert and jazz bands basically FREE of charge! Both have enjoyed being part of the cross country teams – opportunities I’m not sure they would have taken advantage of in a larger school…or that would have been easily available had we homeschooled.

As a substitute teacher, I have been able to regularly speak the name of Jesus in the classroom! I have watched teachers encourage open discussions between students regarding spiritual/moral issues. We have found the charter school environment to be full of opportunities to be “salt and light” in the world while still providing a buffer from many of the harsher realities our children would undoubtedly face in a ‘regular’ public school. In many ways, it has seemed like we are able to experience the best of both worlds: a tuition-free, ‘private education’! I appreciate that Kevin & Rachel are being exposed to some aspects of the ‘real world’ and learning to filter it through Scripture on a daily basis…yet the exposure is more limited than it would be in public schools because of the structured, academically-focused environment. Throughout their school years, I’ve been privileged to pray alongside other moms for our kids and their school through Moms in Touch. It’s exciting to see how the Lord answers our prayers…and grows our families spiritually over time.

While I firmly believe that our children are exactly where God wants THEM, in terms of schooling, I have certainly wished at times that they could experience Scripture-based teaching – whether in a Christian school, or with me as their teacher in our home. It is a challenge to teach children how to walk with the Lord in every aspect of their lives when they are in the world for a large chunk of every day. We have intentionally established traditions and patterns in our family that emphasize spiritual learning and growth. Both Kevin and Rachel have participated in AWANA since pre-school-age, and they have, literally, hundreds of Bible verses hidden in their hearts. We have routinely used drive time for devotions and Scripture memorization. We use our drive time now (30 minutes each way) to talk about not only the usual daily events in teenagers’ lives…but also to talk about how to apply Scripture to real life and how to continually develop their biblical world-view in contrast to our culture. We truly attempt to seize every available opportunity to infuse truth into our kids’ lives.

Kevin & Rachel have now attended FA charter school for 6 years! As time has gone by, I have become more and more certain that this was definitely HIS plan for them. What we began by considering the “lesser of two evils” in terms of public school has proven to be THE BEST alternative, by FAR, for our family…with benefits I never even foresaw. I can see God not only preparing them for a future He has planned for each of them…but also see Him using them TODAY right where He has placed them. I am still open to homeschooling and seek the Lord’s leading each new school year…I even sometimes envy all my friends who DO homeschool! I absolutely believe that the sovereign God of the universe - Who fearfully and wonderfully made EACH of us as a unique individual (Psalm 139:14) - has a hand-chosen path for each of our children’s lives. We are each gifted uniquely, called individually, and trained specifically for the works He prepared beforehand for us. (Ephesians 2:10) I wholeheartedly believe that there is no ONE choice that is "right" for every Christian family. One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is determining the right choices & courses of action for each of our children, individually. We HAVE to stay in constant communication with Him…filled with the Holy Spirit…immersed in His Word if we are to KNOW His plan.


Krista said...

Thanks so much for sharing! As a former teacher at FA, it was neat to see the FA from a mom's eyes. You are an amazing mom and I'm thankful you've sought the Lord so intensely on this important part of your children's lives. You and your kids are making eternal impacts at FA. Thanks again for sharing!

MMS said...

You did an excellent job describing FA! As a teacher, I appreciate so much your support and friendship. I can't tell you how encouraged I am when I see that you are praying for the school, students, and teachers. THANK YOU!


cheryl23 said...

thanks so much, krista & mary! =)

this was fun...and we really do LOVE FA! it's not perfect...but we are soooo blessed to be there! =)

you both encouraged me more than you know...=)

cheryl23 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KC said...

How do charter schools rank on cost?

Christina said...

Kim - They're FREE!! It's still a public it has to be. Franklin Academy receives money from the state (per student - just like any other public school) but instead of receving the rest of money from a county system (which we are not part of), the rest comes from a private source. Ours was a very successful businessman who serves at the Chairman of the Board of directors that "govern" the school.

Terra Jones said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! We've thought about this option for when our boys start school. Thank you so much for the inside perspective!

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