featured-image
California

A California Charter School Gave Me a Lifeline. Don't Take That Away From Other Students.

If charter schools had been an option when I was young, I believe my mom would have been wise to choose them for me, given all I went through in those years. As an adult, I’m glad I was able to get the education I needed through a charter school—when I had the maturity to appreciate it. Now I’m excited and humbled to be able to speak on behalf of adult charter school students.

Here’s why I’m advocating for charter school education.

I came from a very hard background. My mom was on drugs. I had to deal with that. I had been through a lot. I was really hurt. I was distracted; I couldn’t focus.

In junior high school, a teacher told me, “You’re going to be nothing.” That’s what I thought about myself. It stuck with me for years. My failures became my trophies. I held them like that was all I had. If anybody thought I was remotely smart, I thought that made me uncool.

I went to a big high school. My favorite class was skipping. I was angry. All I could think about was what had happened to me and how nobody defended me. I was a hurt child and lashing out. My school did not have the tools to help me. Without the right tools and the right therapy, I just couldn’t focus.

I went to high school, but I did not graduate. I could not succeed.

For a long time, I did bad things. Gangbanging and all that stuff was all I was into. Officers used to pull up on me and say, “You’re better than this. You’re smarter than this.” 

I would be like, “Who, me?” I still had that longing and that thirst for education, but I was afraid.

After Prison Knocked Me Down, Highlands Community Charter School Built Me Up

It took a walk on the wild side for me to think about education again. I spent four months in jail out of a year-and-a-half sentence.

When I first got out, I went to a ministerial program. I got my ministry license because I really wanted to help women. For three years now, I’ve been doing a program, "Build a Hat to Save a Life." The women make hats and process trauma. Women sell the hats, with their stories attached, and keep 100% of the proceeds from their sales. Who knew that my healing would turn into healing for other people?

I was referring people to go to Highlands Community Charter School all the time. But I had to ask myself, “How can I ask people to do something I’m not willing to do?”

So finally, I said to myself, “I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m just going to do it.”

Highlands Community is amazing. We have more than 20 campuses throughout Sacramento, serving adults going to high school, learning English and building their careers. They have great technical classes—computer tech, cosmetology, truck driving, electrical and entrepreneurship classes to help people build their businesses.

A lot of people have high school diplomas but they don’t have tools to succeed. Highlands is different that way. They have groups and tools to build you up as a person so you can go off and graduate and become successful. When I started letting go of fear, I let go of those trophies of failure.

I started to collect accolades.

I became a student leader. I started writing for the student newspaper. I went from “least likely to succeed” to Highlands Community Charter School 2019 Prom Queen. 

Dolly, Highlands Community Charter School 2019 Prom Queen

I started at zero credits in July 2018 and I’m going to graduate next year. My mom would be so proud to see how I’m supporting my fellow students.

We Have to Fight Like Never Before 

The current battle over charters feels like an attack. It feels like you’re taking away the one thing we have.

To me, district-run schools are like prison pushers, where charter schools are college pushers. Before Highlands, I never even noticed the colleges around me. Now I see them all the time. You see what you’re ready for. If somebody is not showing you the next steps, how can you be prepared?

I feel like charter schools focus more on making the next level real and accessible. The prison system is lucrative. They want the school-to-prison pipeline open. They don’t want it closed. So we have to fight like never before. Charter schools are a lifeline. We cannot allow them to cut off a lifeline for our students. Education, not politics!

Photo courtesy of the author.
Jannesse "Dolly" Hunt is a minister and trauma survivor whose greatest passion is helping other women. Dolly also advocates on behalf of quality charter school education in California.  

Join the Movement