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School Choice Is Why I'll Get Both a High School Diploma and an Associate's Degree at the Same Time

In my life, I’ve attended five different types of schooling options, and I will graduate with my associate’s degree before I complete my high school diploma. How? Because I have access to school choice. This National School Choice Week, I’d like to share my story with you. Most 17-year-olds don’t pay much attention to school choice, but it’s been a major part of my story since I was 5 years old. Since then, I have come to learn about it and appreciate it a great deal. Over the past 12 years, I have attended traditional public schools, private schools, public charter schools, private virtual schools and public virtual schools. As you can tell, there were a lot of changes in my life. The first school I ever attended was a private Christian school. At the time, that school was perfect for me. The teachers and staff were fantastic, and it helped place Christian values in my life. Unfortunately, it was expensive. When my dad lost his job at the end of my first-grade year, my parents told me that we needed to change schools. We only knew about two other options: public schools and home schooling. We decided to try a more hands-on approach with home schooling. All my cousins were home-schooled, so my mom and I thought we could do this easily. We soon found out that not every option works for every student. Home schooling offers the flexibility and freedom to create your own due dates and structure. For my cousins, this worked perfectly. But we discovered that we needed a more structured approach. The next step was a virtual school through the new district virtual program. That seemed like the answer we had been looking for, but there was one problem: In order to access the public virtual option, I had to attend one year of public school. I had not done that, so I could not access the free version. It was then that my mom and I decided to get involved in school choice in a way that we didn’t think was possible: We were going to try to change the law that required one year of public school attendance before accessing Florida Virtual School. As one can imagine, changing a law is not easy. We had to constantly travel all around Florida to get signatures for our petition, and eventually we travelled to Washington D.C. for school choice rallies. We were able to reverse the law to help make the option available for many families, as well as meet hundreds of different kids and parents throughout Florida and the rest of the United States. During this time, I was able to access a private virtual school option, which allowed us to have a flexible but more structured educational choice. When I reached fifth grade, I decided that I wanted to try to go back to “normal school.” Our traveling for signatures had slowed significantly, and I wanted to branch out. My mom decided to send me to my neighborhood zoned public school. I stayed there for about a month until my mom decided to move me back to the private Christian school I attended when I was younger, where my sister attended. The tuition at the private school was taking a toll on our family, so in my sixth-grade year, we entered the lottery for our local charter school. I was accepted, and I have been attending there ever since. That school, Dayspring Academy, is a performing arts school that has allowed me to make close friends as well as advance in my education. I participate in Dayspring’s fast track program, so my 11th and 12th grade years here are spent as a full-time college student, dual enrolling at Pasco Hernando State College. I expect to complete my associate’s degree before I finish my high school diploma. Each education option I’ve accessed over the years has shown me that [pullquote position="left"]no one choice fits all students. The private school was a great option for my family, until it wasn’t. Home schooling allowed us flexibility—in our case, perhaps too much, but my mom and I bonded, and I made lots of friends in our home-schooling groups. Virtual schooling gave me a better balance of flexibility and structure. The public school allowed me to meet some great friends and experience a larger classroom. And my charter school allowed me to open up in ways I never thought possible, and get ahead in my education. Each choice has left an impact on my life in the most beneficial ways possible. As a user of all these choices, I can say from experience that school choice should be open to every child, so they can be in the best environment for them—so they can thrive.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Howard.
Jessica Howard is a senior at Dayspring Academy in Port Richey, Florida, attending full-time college courses at Pasco Hernando State College as a dual-enrolled student.

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