When you go to school, you should never feel like just another seat in the class. Everyone in the school should know you by name—not just the teachers, but the engineer and the lunch ladies, too. Having school choice helped me find a place where that could happen.
When my older sister was looking for a middle school, my mom found Perspectives Charter Schools at a school fair. After a visit to their Rodney D. Joslin campus, located just south of downtown, she was impressed with the programs, the graduation rates and the new building. She wanted to get us out of our South Side environment and expose us to something different.
Thanks to my sister’s experiences at Perspectives Joslin campus, we had some great reviews of the school when I was going into sixth grade. I joined her there and never looked back. There was a welcoming feel when I came in every day. In grammar school, my class had about 30 students, but at Perspectives there were about 20 students tops in class, with two teachers. Everybody could get help if they needed it.
Through field studies—where we worked in schools, homeless shelters and other environments—we did get out of our comfort zones, just as my mother hoped we would. I worked as an assistant teacher in the preschool program at South Loop Elementary, just across the street from Perspectives Joslin. We set up for lunch, read stories, and helped children with activities like building blocks. Even though I don’t really like little children, it was a good feeling to have someone looking up to me.
Though my sister chose elsewhere for high school, I stayed at Perspectives Joslin. Her high school had three floors—I just couldn’t imagine that for myself. I liked the more intimate setting at Joslin. The small size and personal relationships have definitely helped me grow. Even when I do bad things, somebody actually cares what I’m doing and helps me redirect.
Here at Joslin, I’ve had the ability to create deep relationships with teachers and other school staff. Our school social worker has made a big, big impact on my life, not just in helping me deal with emotions. Academically, she helped me find which colleges would best suit me, and helped me find and apply for scholarships.
Right now I’m taking my first Advanced Placement class, AP Literature. We’re reading Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” Sometimes I really have to sit down with my teacher to understand it—there’s so much going on in the text. What’s great is he told us it’s OK not to understand something right away. It’s OK to wrestle with a text. It’s OK to be vulnerable and open. That’s the best way you get to learn.
When I leave Perspectives for college, the main thing I will take away is our school’s principles for A Disciplined Life® (ADL). They’re not just principles posted on the wall. They’re the foundation of the school, and they give you ethics to live by. We’re required to pick an ADL principle to work on every quarter, and our parents are, too.
Right now I’m working on “taking initiative,” whether by asking more questions in class or stepping up to do the dishes at home. Plus, I can tell my mom, “You’re watching too much TV. Let’s put the remote down,” and remind her of her ADL principle: “use your time wisely.” And she can say the same to me.
I am a student ambassador here at Perspectives, which means I get opportunities to tell people about our school, whether they are visitors or potential new students. Earlier in high school, I got to lead school tours at an open house for new students. I enjoyed helping people get to know our school and think about what to do with the next four years of their lives.
School choice made it possible for me to attend Perspectives Charter Schools. I always recommend Perspectives to anyone entering middle or high school. I think it’s just a great school.
An original version of this post appeared on The Seventy Four.
Gabby Dixon is a senior at Perspectives Charter Schools Rodney D. Joslin campus in Chicago, where she serves on student government and is a member of the National Honor Society. She plans to attend Loyola University in September.