Leah Stanger has an encouraging story about her son that I wish every politician, parent and educator in the country could hear. Stanger began writing to me about four years ago to describe changes when her son Nick, switched from a large traditional public school—where he was failing miserably—to a small arts-focused public charter school. Today he is thriving. Nick loved music, and had done well in district elementary and middle schools because of the support he received to help deal with his special needs. However, as Leah explained, when he entered high school:
Due to his learning problem, he was forced to take a social skills hour, to help with homework. That took his elective. He was not allowed to take a music course. High school became read a book, take a test...it got him SO far behind (like 6 missing assignments/tests per class and one hour to catch up). He gave up on school, teachers, adults, us.
Meanwhile, he found the ‘I hate Life’ crowd at school...as a parent we didn't know what to do. [Nick] lost hope, he felt stupid, he told us he can't learn.
Fortunately, Stanger found Main Street School of Performing Arts (MSSPA), a public charter school in Hopkins, Minnesota. He began getting up an hour earlier “without complaining.” Main Street encouraged him to play his guitar. Leah wrote, four years ago, “Now he has hope, and we have hope.” Since then, we’ve stayed in touch. Leah told me that Nick graduated from Main Street and is doing very well now. He took a year to work and save up to go to a music production school in Arizona called Conservatory for Recording Arts and Sciences. It's a one-year intense program where he learns sound, video and music production. Leah added that, "Right now, he is the top student in his class and that has never happened for him! It's not a traditional college, but he's so motivated in his element. His band has been also offered a contract, he's put out two albums and working on a third." Nick told me via email about his schooling experience:
I transferred to Main Street in the middle of my sophomore year of high school so I could be in an environment that encourages creativity and artistry, something I felt was seriously lacking at the public high school I had attended previously. As soon as I transferred to MSSPA, I found it much easier to connect with people because while everyone there comes from a unique and diverse background (students and faculty alike), everyone's interest lies in the advancement and success of their peers and themselves. There's no such thing as a perfect school, but I think Main Street does a good job of providing the platform for everyone to grow as artists and be successful if they're willing to put the work into it.
Nick’s experience helps explain the dramatic growth of public charter schools in Minnesota and around the country. Some students liked the smaller, more personalized environment many charters offer. Others like the specialized program. Aaliyah Hodge, a consultant to the Center for School Change, has analyzed
recently released data from the Minnesota Department of Education. Hodge found that since 2006-2007, Minnesota’s public charter school enrollment has more than doubled, 23,689 to 53,960. Meanwhile district public school enrollment declined from 804,557 to 801,907. District schools are good options for many students. The vast majority of Minnesota public school students are enrolled in district public schools. However, there’s strong growth in charter enrollment. And part of that growth is in Minnesota’s suburban and rural communities, from Anoka to Yellow Medicine County. When students like Nick succeed, it’s good for all of us. Instead of being a frustrated dropout, he’s continuing his education as he contributes his energy and music to the rest of us. Options not only help more students succeed. They also help make our communities and country a better place for all of us.
Joe Nathan, Ph.D., helped write the nation's first charter public school law. Legislators and governors in more than 25 states have asked him to testify and provide information about chartering and other school improvement issues. Nathan has spent the last 44 years as a public school teacher, administrator, parent, researcher and advocate. Parent, student & professional groups have given him ...