Indiana has come a long way from the days when the quality of education children received solely depended on their zip code and parent’s income. For far too long, Indiana has failed its poor and minority students. Year after year, the state's school districts with the largest number of poor and minority students fail to meet state standards. Lawmakers and school administrators throw out lots of blame to explain away their repeated failure, but the one reason that stands out to me is the accusation that low income and minority parents don’t want to be involved and don't value education.
In 2001, school choice came to Indiana, with much controversy, in the form of charter schools. I stumbled upon this option in 2005 as a young mother looking for a school for my then, five-year-old twins to attend for kindergarten. I, a young poor black mother, was shocked at the failing public school choices that were available where I could afford to live. During my school search, I stumbled upon a newspaper article about charter schools. After completing some research, I found a few charter schools that didn't have the best I-STEP scores but were on an upward trend each year. I was also encouraged by the effort each school was making to include areas such as character and arts into the curriculum.
My two kindergarteners were accepted to our number one choice Christel House Academy South. They attended Christel House Academy from kindergarten until seventh grade. Looking back, it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. Christel House not only provided a solid educational foundation for my children, but it provided support that my family and many other families needed.
Christel House understood that even poor and minority families could succeed when given the support needed such as: transportation, meals, low-cost extracurricular activities, free summer programs and small class sizes. During a time when I otherwise could not have afforded to give my children opportunities like: swimming lessons, piano lessons, art, STEM camp, basketball, and track; enrolling my children in this school made them well within our reach.
Before I knew it, high school was on the horizon for my twins and they had a younger sibling who was ready to enter kindergarten. Again, I was taken back that during the time my twins were progressing through their education at the charter school, the public school options that were available for my kindergartner were still schools that had a D or F school rating and low ECA pass rates. During this school search, I kept hearing about the School Choice Voucher program. I decided to find out more and entered my information at myschooloption.org and I learned we qualified for the choice voucher program. This time around, our family was able to choose from traditional public, public charter, and private school options.
This time, the best fit for our family was a private school, Heritage Christian School. I will admit I was skeptical at first. It was a much different place than the diverse charter school. It was predominantly white. It felt right, but would it turn out alright? The answer is an overwhelming YES. They were not kicked out because learning gaps, instead many teachers have given up their time to make sure my children earned good grades. The transition was not easy, but the teachers, staff, and coaches were there every step of the way to ensure my children were successful during the transition.
Amid the controversy surrounding the effects of school choice on traditional public schools, I feel the biggest part of the picture is forgotten, the effects of school choice on children and the community. When I chose a charter school for my children, it was a choice not to conform to the expectation of failure that had been set forth for my children because of their zip code and my income. School choice allowed my family to choose the best education for our children.
Change has come to education in Indiana, not for only poor and minority students, but for all students. Parents all over the state have demanded access to quality education. It has been proven over and over again that even poor and minority students can and will learn. Although Indiana still has a lot of work to do in educating its most vulnerable children, this year I will be able to celebrate high school graduation with my oldest children. I will also celebrate the progress Indiana has made in addressing access to quality education for its most vulnerable children.