When I was in 4th grade, a guest speaker came to my school to talk about the power of courage. As he stood in front of the whole school, he held up a $20 bill and asked, “Who wants it?” Everyone raised their hands shouting “Me! Me!” until one student simply walked up and grabbed it. I was waiting for a teacher to stop him and expected him to get in trouble—but he didn’t. That was exactly what the speaker wanted him to do. After the student took the money, the speaker cheered him on, gave him a high five, and let him have the $20.
The lesson? If you want something for yourself, you must simply go get it. Don’t just talk about how badly you want something—take action. I was captivated by that message, and I still think about it today. Moments like these helped me develop the scrappiness and drive that has gotten me where I am today.
Growing up in Cleveland, I was slated to attend Cleveland Municipal School District, which is ranked in the bottom 50% of all 896 public school districts in Ohio. Breakthrough Public Schools, a charter school network in the area, gave my mom an alternative option that prepared me for my academic and professional endeavors. Breakthrough serves predominantly Black students from low-income backgrounds and has some of the highest performing public schools in Ohio. As I get older, I understand how the values I practiced at Breakthrough, like resiliency, responsibility, and courage, set me up for success and to be a leader.
Breakthrough Public Schools’ Citizens Academy (K-5) and Citizens Leadership Academy (6-8) are dedicated to their mission to “produce learners who exemplify academic excellence and responsible citizenship.” Their vision is for every student to graduate college and become an engaged member of society. During my experience, they did this by promoting a community centered on their identified values—responsibility, respect, perseverance, honesty, generosity, courage and loyalty. As a result, the culture set high academic and behavioral standards that shifted my mindset completely at such a young age, driving my ambition without me knowing it at the time. Now, I don’t take those experiences I had for granted.
One of the many things that makes charter schools special is their unique education models that give parents the opportunity to choose the school that targets their child’s needs. My charter elementary and middle school followed a model that provided me with meaningful values and taught me the importance of mindset and character, which I believe, are essential for success and self-discipline. My mom making the choice to send me to a public school that allowed me to put these values into practice was the best thing she could have done for me. While I may not have completely appreciated the magnitude of these foundations when I was a kid, everything made sense the moment I stepped into high school and even more so in college.
Breakthrough Public Schools have changed many students’ lives including mine—I am now a first-generation college graduate from Columbia University. It’s important to me that families know charter schools are another great option for their children and the impact they can have on them and their future.
Kayla Burns is a 2023 summer policy intern at the National Alliance and Breakthrough Public Schools Alum.