For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a charter school supporter. Growing up in Washington, D.C., it’s hard not to be. I was surrounded by friends attending high-quality charter schools like Washington Latin Public Charter School and BASIS DC, adults willing to answer my questions about public education, and knowledgeable advocates directly involved in the movement.
To me, the charter school advantage was simple: students having the option to attend a financially accessible school with a certain focus beneficial to their specific needs or learning styles. As a student at the private Washington International School, this ability to cater to students or have a focus particularly resonated with me.
When I look back on my years at my internationally focused school, I remember my teachers calling me “linda” and “hermosa,” the same endearing terms my Mexican dad calls me at home. I remember culturally inclusive curriculum work, where I learned about everything from Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the Conquistadors and the Chicano movement. I remember feeling supported, valued, and seen.
I knew that many students with my same Latino identity face financial barriers prohibiting them from attending private schools like mine. That is why supporting charter schools—public schools with the agency to tailor their educational offerings to particular students and communities while remaining accessible and affordable—is a no-brainer to me.
By the time I got to college, my stance on charter schools was fully set. I was excited to take a class on the role they had in the Philadelphia community and expected that the course material would bolster what I already believed. Instead, the class presented arguments for how up-and-coming charter schools hurt Philadelphia’s neighborhood school system. I struggled with being told that charter school success could cause traditional public school failure. Part of me thought back to D.C. where I had seen many examples of the two models coexisting. But another part thought I had to trust the new viewpoint, especially because it was being presented to me in an educational environment I respected.
I strove to do some research and familiarize myself with different perspectives in the sector. Through Wikipedia rabbit holes and endless Google Scholar searches, I got more clarity: spending time analyzing a wide array of sources for and against charter schools made me feel confident in my initial decision to be an advocate for the model.
Today, I am a strong charter supporter, not only because of the countless benefits charters provide, but also because I have had the opportunity to sit with and challenge my ideas on multiple occasions. Experiencing pushback and exposure to other arguments allows me to consider myself an educated, rather than blind, advocate, and makes me confident in my viewpoint.
As a summer fellow with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, I had the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge about charter schools and continue to be a stronger supporter. Through getting to report on the National Charter School Conference, tweeting about daily charter school news, and participating in meetings discussing pressing items like the Charter Schools Program rules and parent views on education, my learning and advocacy journeys have progressed.
Although my advocacy might look different over the school year, there is no doubt in my mind it will continue. Through staying informed, taking education-based classes, and speaking about my experience with others, I hope to continue to raise awareness for charter schools and clarify any misconceptions those around me have about them.
Sophia Nehme is a summer fellow with the National Alliance for Public Charter School. She is a current sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Psychology and Urban Education. One day she hopes to work in the education sector.