Charters Change Lives! recently caught up with Laura Hecht-Felella, a 2004 alumna of the Hoboken Charter School. Currently in her final year at New York University School of Law, Laura explained how her elementary school education provided a foundation for her to pursue her passion in public interest law.
When did you attend the Hoboken Charter School? And why?
I was one of about twenty students in the Hoboken Charter School’s inaugural third grade class. I attended the Hoboken Charter School from third to eighth grade, but I was involved in the school from a much earlier age because my mom was one of the school’s founders. I remember sitting with her during long meetings at our local community center as she and the founding committee shaped the school’s mission and structure. When the Hoboken Charter School finally opened, I was excited to be a part of it.
In your transition to the Hoboken Charter School, what experience(s) stand out in your mind?
At seven years old I had the honor of accepting the Hoboken Charter School’s charter from New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. By chance, the governor and I were both wearing red dresses and I remember her joking with me about our similar outfit choices. The following year, when the Hoboken Charter School opened, I enrolled in the school’s third grade class. At that time, the Hoboken Charter School was housed on half of a third floor of a public school in Hoboken. My third grade classroom had been the teacher’s room at the public school and it was so small that my teachers had to position the desks in a specific diagonal formation so they all fit! At the time, I didn’t think much of the limited space, but looking back, I realize—and am grateful for—the many challenges the founding staff had to overcome to carry out the school’s mission.
How did your 5 years there shape your future academic interests?
A core pillar of the Hoboken Charter School’s mission is a commitment to service learning. In every class, students are encouraged engage with their community to identify community problems and then design, implement, and evaluate action plans. My civic awareness and passion for social justice is rooted in my experiences at the Hoboken Charter School where as student I participated, among other things, in the school’s first annual March on Washington Street in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and painted a mural for the Hoboken Shelter (which still adorns the shelter’s main room today).
What do you hope to accomplish with your law degree?
It is the “American Dream” that we all can achieve success and upward mobility if we work hard enough. The truth is that achieving success is a lot more difficult for people who must overcome systems of oppression and inequality. I want to use my law degree to advance social justice and attempt to even the playing field by providing information, support, and legal assistance to people, who because of a lack of resources or otherwise, are not served by our existing systems.
How did the Hoboken Charter School change your life?
In addition to shaping both my career goals and my outlook on life in general, the Hoboken Charter School has also left with me great friends and mentors. One of my best friends from fourth grade, now a teacher herself, is someone I consider a lifelong friend and resource. My eighth grade teacher, now the principal of the Hoboken Charter School, continued to serve as a mentor to me long after I graduated eighth grade. She helped me apply to college, and advised me when I was considering applying to law school. The relationships and sense of community the school established have stayed with me long after my 8th grade graduation.