I’m a Jersey girl. Born and raised, this is my state and I own all the good and bad with that, including the education system. I was born to Cuban parents who immigrated in pursuit of the ever-elusive, always-aspired American Dream. From the South Bronx, they moved to Jersey to offer their own children—me and my brother—a better education than they had.
For reasons unbeknownst to me as a child, my brother and I were sent to pre-K-8 parochial school. My parents—like all parents—placed a premium on education so we were told more than once that “Success was not an option, it was our only option.” But there was another reason success was our only option: demonstrated success was the only way to get a scholarship for our Catholic high school and get into the the highly-selective regional magnet schools. And we were successful. Both my brother and I placed into the magnet schools (MAST and Communications, respectively) which made the choice easy:
- attend a free high-performing school,
- attend a free mid-range public school, or
- pay for a high-preforming private school
We took option number one. We were fortunate to receive transportation and attend high-performing public schools 30-40 minutes from our home. But why weren’t high-performing schools available in our immediate community? And what about the students that didn’t place into specific programs or receive scholarships? Why didn’t every student have the opportunity to attend a high-performing school?
In the year 2014, there are individuals and organizations interested in maintaining the status quo of failing schools—or rather, interested in focusing on the problems of those questions rather than solutions. This is not their blog.
This blog is for every parent of a child in a failing school and in performing schools, for every individual that believes school choice is indeed a right, and every student I taught in Newark that said “My mom wants me here.” This blog is for those whose fight for better schools in their community has fallen on deaf ears. And for anyone who sees beyond the rhetoric of pro- and anti-school choice and looks at a school’s ability to educate and develop every child regardless of their zip code, the color of their skin, or the needs they live with every day.
Every child in Jersey has a right to an excellent education. The only way to make that happen is to say it, amplify it, until it is so loud it cannot be ignored. Our kids want and need to hear the voices that are fighting. I look forward to hearing yours, sharing it, and amplifying it. Let’s make some noise for our kids together.
Amanda Vega is the Manager of Communications and Marketing at the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. Before joining the Association, she taught 9th grade Spanish at the Paulo Freire Charter School in Newark. In another life Amanda worked in children’s book publishing.