Every parent sends their child to school believing they are bright, intelligent individuals capable of anything. I believe the very same about my two sons, Matthew, 7, and William, 5. I also believe that they deserve every opportunity to be successful and enjoy their education—who wouldn’t want that for their children?
When Matthew entered pre-kindergarten in a local Jersey City public school I wanted to ensure that he had the opportunities to thrive as an intelligent child. Because he was born with a visual impairment—low vision in his left eye and zero vision in his right eye—Matthew was classified with a general preschool disabled IEP in order to receive services.
“As a parent, I want to be the one to choose who I entrust my kids to… Any limitation of that choice is a violation of my rights as a parent.”
Once Matthew was 5 years old he received a full range of testing, and it was determined that he needed a medical 504 plan (Editor’s note: A 504 Plan provides accommodations to a general education student with special healthcare needs so they may fully participate in school. Usually, an IEP is used for special education purposes and a 504 Plan is used by a general education student who is not eligible for special education services.) However, my biggest fear was that realizing Matthew was a high-functioning student, it’d be easy for teachers to forget that he might not see or that information from the board might not be copied for him. When he moved from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten, the local public school classes were crowded and I began to think that with so many kids in a class, the extra steps to ensure his success—like copying notes from the board or printing things bigger—were going to be lost or forgotten with 29 other students.
I knew there had to be other options for Matthew’s education and when I did the research I started reading about charter schools and learned from other parents that the charter schools are free public schools, but they have different models of teaching and smaller class sizes. I knew I had to give it a try despite Matthew’s 504. After reading about the charter schools in Jersey City and going through the application process, Matthew got a seat through the lottery at Jersey City Global Charter School and started kindergarten there in the fall of 2013.
I definitely noticed a big change in relation to the teachers at JCGCS compared to when he was 3 years old in a small group environment in public pre-school. In the public school the special education teachers pushed the blame on each other when something didn’t happen for Matthew. I felt like no one in the public school was taking responsibility for my child’s education and I was so frustrated. But when we got to JCGCS the teachers were open to learning about Matthew’s visual impairment, and the school setup training with the Commission for the Blind to educate the classroom teacher and other school staff on the needs of students with visual impairment. It gives me as a parent—or any parent—great comfort and peace of mind to know that my child’s school is taking the extra steps for them to be successful.
So, when it was time for my youngest son, William, now 5, to enter kindergarten, I enrolled him directly into JCGCS. I wasn’t going to try the public schools because I saw how well Matthew was doing and growing in the charter school. They’re not only learning in the classroom but the teachers work with students to experience their world through other vehicles that teaches them the skills without the over-emphasis on tests. The whole school is built around the idea of a micro-society where the students have different jobs and responsibilities that they hold and have to apply for so in kindergarten they learn important qualities and William created a resume. As a first grader, Matthew developed a business plan. It’s done at their level, but they are building an understanding of the world around them. My kids wouldn’t get that in a public school—not where the whole school would participate.
There are so many benefits for my sons that I can’t imagine them not continuing in a charter school through twelfth grade. People talk a lot about having choice in education and having options. I can’t imagine fighting against school choice. I think it would just set up students for failure and they don’t deserve that. Every day, parents entrust their children to schools for 8 hours—and as parents we hope that we are making the best decisions for our children. As a parent, I want to be the one to choose who I entrust my kids to for that time. Any limitation of that choice is a violation of my rights as a parent.
Monique Herrera is a proud mom of two sons at Jersey City Global Charter School. She shares her story as an advocate for charter schools and to increase awareness of charter schools and the work they do in communities.