afterhoursA charter school recently saved my sanity. I have a brilliant daughter who experiences anxiety when she attends regular public high school. Something about the huge crowds of children, or the chaos during class changes, pushes her panic button. Because of this problem we spent the better part of the school year dealing with truancy, constant illnesses, falling grades, therapy, and medication. I finally withdrew her from public school and enrolled her in a local charter school. What a relief.

I know there is some debate about the efficacy of charter schools, and questions about their procedures. My friends and family in Alabama were especially interested in my daughter’s situation because a local politician has made the charter schools discussion part of his agenda. Here is what I have learned.

First, the way the school works – At my daughter’s school the kids attend one of three sessions, morning, mid-day, or evening, each lasting for four hours. The dress code is more relaxed, the children can eat in class, everyone works at their own pace, and the kids don’t change classes – the teachers do. So, my daughter goes to class and works first on, say, science, with that teacher. An hour later, the science teacher leaves, the math teacher arrives and the children either continue working on science or they work on math. While my daughter is working on calculus, the child next to her may be studying remedial freshman algebra, and the child futher along working on advanced geometry. The teacher is there to assist with assignments, not control what is being studied. While all of this is going on there may be one child in class who is concentrating on art, not working on science or math at that time at all. The focus is on attending class and getting work done, and less on structure and state-mandated competency testing.

Second, the children attending the charter school – this surely differs depending on the location of the school, but at my daughter’s charter there are basically two types of students. One group is of troubled children, those with truancy issues or problems with the law or who may have been expelled from public school for misbehavior. These kids benefit from the smaller classes and individualized study, as well as the flexible schedule. Most importantly, the charter school offers an alternative to dropping out. The second group of students are those for whom regular public school doesn’t work for reasons other than behavior problems, and gifted students. Their parents are worried about the quality of public school education, or the kids have been bullied at public school, or, like with my daughter, huge schools are just too scary. Some kids attend to graduate early since they can learn more quickly than their peers, and some attend only to take advanced classes at their own pace. These kids often transfer to the charter to take a couple of very hard courses, then they transfer back to their regular school to complete their studies and graduate.

A couple more benefits – I have been advised that our state colleges adore charter school graduates. The kids that do well in charter school have a better chance than other freshmen of doing well their first year of college because of the differences in the way traditional high schools and colleges operate. Charter students arrive already knowing how to prioritize their own workload and are generally less reliant on direction. A student that graduates from a charter school with good SAT scores is almost guaranteed a free ride their first year of college. Individualized study has huge benefits for the kids while they’re still in high school, as well. Not only does it help those children who lag behind their peers, but it helps brighter students by allowing them to leap ahead.

I’m sure there are detractors out there, but so far I have nothing negative to say about charter schools. Do you have a differing opinon?

– Wendy Clyde