“Education is the way out of poverty and into a better life.” For years, my family harped on this mantra in hopes of providing me opportunities they didn’t have themselves.
For a while, I couldn’t find my place and struggled to live up to my family’s expectations. I began middle school in a traditional public school, and like many of my peers, I felt lost in the system. I was failing my classes and disconnected from everyone around me. Among the most frustrating parts for me was the school’s cookie-cutter approach that failed to take into account that no two kids learn the same way.
It wasn’t until I transferred to a public charter school, Austin Achieve, that I saw a glimpse of what it looked like for a school to be rooted in the needs of kids. The experience was refreshing, and it allowed me to be me. Four years later, I’m proud to say that I’ll be attending Stanford next fall on a near full-tuition scholarship with hopes of returning to Austin to give back to my community.
Austin Achieve has never felt like an institution but rather, a home away from home—a tight-knit community that rallies behind its students to succeed. There, I felt seen as a person rather than a number. With smaller class sizes and teachers who are given the flexibility to teach in new and engaging ways, I stopped feeling overwhelmed and began feeling valued and confident in ways that I hadn’t experienced before.
Public charter schools like Austin Achieve are focused not just on cultivating good students, but also good people. As a student, I encountered a nurturing environment where I was empowered to explore my passions, helping me to develop a stronger sense of self and direction for my future.
As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have the resources many others have during the college application process. However, when the time came for me to chart through the nerve-wracking process, I knew I wasn’t alone. From ACT prep to financial planning, my school guided me through every step from the day I stepped onto its campus. This story is not unique to me or even Austin Achieve.
Public charter schools work, and I am proof of that. Contrary to what some may believe, charter schools are public, free, and open to all students. They are part of a single public education system and are strengthening it by offering students schools that fit their needs. Some may also say that charter schools are no better than traditional public schools. But in Texas, charter schools are doing amazing work meeting the needs of kids and preparing them for success in college and in life. Importantly, historically underserved student populations at public charter schools in Texas perform better than their peers on almost every core subject.
No student’s education or future should be dictated by their zip code or limited to one type of school. Students deserve education options that unlock their potential and uplift them on their educational journey.
It is incredible to reflect on where I would be today if I didn’t have the choice to attend my public charter school. From personalized learning to dedicated teachers, my school has made a dramatic impact on not only my path to Stanford, but also my life afterwards.
This fall, when I set foot on campus as a college freshman, I will be taking a bit of my public school experience with me. As I enter this next chapter in my educational journey, I feel prepared and confident in my ability to meet upcoming challenges head on. And for that, I have my public charter school to thank.
Photo courtesy of the author.
George Rojano is a graduating senior at Austin Achieve High School. He will be heading to Stanford University this fall to begin his freshman year of college.