My son read a million words last year. That’s more words than “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Invisible Man” and other books combined. A lot more. And he’s determined to do it again. He doesn’t need me pushing him every step of the way. Kinoah is a fifth-grader at
IDEA Carver Academy, a public charter school in San Antonio, Texas, and he enjoys it there. Yes, it’s rigorous, but he’s grown used to the challenges set before him at school, and he thrives from them. Neither he nor I would have it any other way. But this wasn’t always the case. Kinoah used to be bored at school. We used to have limited options for giving him a quality education. Which is why I am concerned that
the NAACP’s upcoming vote to impose a moratorium on expanding charter schools will keep thousands of deserving children from receiving a great education like Kinoah. As a Black parent with a child in a charter school, I urge the NAACP to rethink this resolution.
Why does strengthening low-performing public schools mean ending the expansion of high-quality charters?
My son's story
My original goal was to enroll Kinoah in a charter school. Unfortunately, like many parents, I was waitlisted, so Kinoah began his kindergarten year at a traditional public school. I quickly realized he wasn’t being challenged and began his academic career at a school that lacked hope and optimism for his potential. Kinoah came home from school frustrated and discouraged. He told me, “I don’t want to color anymore, Mom. I want to move on to something else.” In kindergarten, Kinoah read at a second grade level. When I asked the school administration about my son not being challenged, I was told there was nothing they could do. They said he would stay in kindergarten with the rest of his peers. There was no chance of Kinoah moving up. Then, midway through Kinoah’s kindergarten year, we received a call from Carver Academy (now IDEA Carver Academy), then a private school, stating that a spot had opened for Kinoah. As much as I did not want to transfer my son in the middle of the year, I knew it was the right move. We had to find a school that was a better fit for him. At Carver, Kinoah was immediately tested and placed in a second grade literacy program. He was seen as an individual, and his age no longer dictated his learning. He was able to make friends in his kindergarten homeroom, while still receiving the appropriate level of reading and math instruction from qualified and passionate teachers. In 2012, when Kinoah was in second grade, we found out that David Robinson was seeking a partner for Carver Academy. He brought
IDEA Public Schools, a tuition-free, public charter network, in to take Carver Academy from a tuition-based private school to a public charter school. This was music to our ears, as it meant we would no longer have to pay for Kinoah’s high-quality education.
Changing the Narrative
Kinoah didn’t skip a beat. As he continued at IDEA, I could tell my son’s attitude towards school was changing, because it was
fun to learn. Kinoah read texts that made him think, and I loved seeing his sense of accomplishment when he read sentences fluently and comprehensively without errors. Plus, he was learning new things—about science, history and what it meant to be a valuable member of the community. The focus at this school was different—the whatever-it-takes attitude, the importance placed on college for all students—I didn’t know a school could feel the same hopefulness as I did for my son. Every kid deserves this. [pullquote position="left"]All students should be afforded an education where their potential is seen as limitless. As a budding fifth-grader, Kinoah is still being challenged and is more determined than ever to go to college and become an engineer. I know my son will become part of the
100 percent of IDEA graduates who are accepted to college every year. When he graduates, he’ll be the first in our family to attend college, and it will mean the world to me to see my bright and determined son be afforded an opportunity I didn’t have. He will help dispel the statistics that say low-income children of color typically don’t graduate from college. It is my hope that Kinoah’s story, and the stories of other students across this nation, can help change the narrative about charter schools. There’s no doubt in my mind that enrolling Kinoah at a charter school was the right move. The culture and knowledge IDEA Public Schools instilled in my child has helped him become a passionate, curious and self-motivated learner. There’s nothing greater than knowledge. That’s the side I’m on. If we stop opening charter schools, we’ll take away the choice, opportunity and advancement all families deserve.
Photo of Kinoah courtesy of Nicole Lemelle.
Nicole Lemelle is the parent of a fifth-grader at IDEA Carver Academy, a public charter school in San Antonio, Texas.