Before I was born in North Carolina, my family lived in Puerto Rico where schooling was limited and with mainly poor options. My mom, who used to be a teacher, understood how important choosing a school for a child can be. After working in a few schools, she recognized the benefits of a charter school and knew it was the right fit for our family. Charter schools had mandatory uniforms, smaller classrooms and mandatory volunteer hours for parents, which meant they’d be more involved.
It was a simple decision. As soon as my mom heard a new public charter school was opening near us she immediately applied. With luck, my older sisters were quickly accepted, and I started Kindergarten there a few years later. My mom recognized the benefits a charter school would provide for us, and for that I am grateful. I am fortunate to have grown up in a charter school system from Kindergarten to graduation. It is all I’ve ever known and has shaped me into who I am today.
Because I attended a charter school for my entire K-12 education, I never truly realized how many opportunities they provided until I graduated. Teachers who held high standards, but were always supportive, gave me the drive to succeed and to always push myself. My goal in high school was to take more advanced classes to challenge myself, and my school had an abundance of these opportunities. After taking one Advanced Placement class after another, I was able to gain college credit and prepare for the college classes yet to come.
The smaller class sizes at my charter school fostered a more personal experience between students and teachers. This environment created a social place where students were also eager to learn. Through partnerships the school made, we had one of the area’s biggest public libraries attached to our school. The school also teamed up with a local community college to create a space on campus for students pursuing dual enrollment courses. These opportunities allowed us to excel and have a wide range of opportunities to get a head start on college coursework.
My school did everything in its power to set up students for future success. While attending college at Florida State University, I have worked harder and pushed myself to excel because of the values my school ingrained in me.
Because charter schools are tuition-free and open to all students based on a lottery system, my school was able to reflect the diverse community in our part of Broward County. Almost half of the students were Hispanic, reflecting South Florida’s large Hispanic community. Attending the same charter school my entire life not only gave me the chance to grow and prepare for college, but also learn in a diverse environment.
The demand for charter schools in Florida continues to outpace availability. I was one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, there are almost 4,500 kids currently on my school’s waitlist hoping and praying they get a chance to attend the school. One of my friends was on the waiting list for seven years and a spot didn’t open until her senior year – too late for her to have the academic experiences that I and others were fortunate to have.
Education isn’t one-size-fits-all. For me and my family, a charter school was the right fit. All families deserve the opportunity to send their children to a school that prepares them for a successful future.
About the author
Kamille Catala is a communications intern at ExcelinEd. She is also a public charter school alumna and a senior at Florida State University.