Charter High School Grads Receive More Than a Diploma

Two charter high school graduates share the quality experiences that helped them reach Ivy League schools.

In eighth grade, Shamrin Salam set a goal to attend an Ivy League college. This was the year Salam started at Michigan Mathematics and Science Academy (MMSA), a K-12 charter public school in Warren. “My family chose MMSA because the school really engaged parents and students,” Salam says. 

Although she could have attended any high school — she was accepted to Cranbrook, Detroit Country Day and the International Academy East — Salam and her parents made the conscious decision to attend MMSA because the school prioritizes parent involvement and puts students’ needs first. “This was a main selling point for my parents,” Salam says.

Salam met her ambitious goal. She will attend Harvard in the fall — the first student in MMSA’s history to attend an Ivy League school. She’s a first-generation college student and her older siblings were role models for her own achievements. 

But Salam also says the year she started at MMSA was pivotal.

“That was the year my mindset completely changed, when I built a growth mindset and started to unlock my potential,” she says. As the new kid among students who attended school together for years, Salam says she was encouraged by her creative writing and English teachers. 

“I became confident in my ability to be an outspoken student. We had conversations about books and what we were learning — intellectual conversations that I was not able to have anywhere else. I was challenged academically,” she says. She asked her teachers for more homework to guide her understanding of analytical writing and the finer points of creative fiction.

Supported by a charter high school

Through MMSA’s unique focus on STEM, Salam also built an interest in math and science to the point that she had as many as five science classes on her schedule in 10th grade. “I really enjoyed it, and it’s a plus to attend a STEM school because you can find other students who have similar interests,” she says. 

When it came time to apply to colleges, Salam says she leaned into a national pre-college program called Minds Matter. “This was a professional, personal and academic development program. I had two mentors I talked through the process with each month,” Salam says. “They understood what I was going through and gave me feedback and support to keep going. And I got a lot of encouragement from everyone at MMSA.”

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Shamrin Salam, a graduate of the Michigan Mathematics and Science Academy, is on her way to Harvard. Photo credit: MMSA

Salam shares story after story of mentors, opportunities and extracurricular experiences at MMSA — all of which she says contributed to her success and, ultimately, to her acceptance to Harvard, where she’ll pursue undergraduate work in women and gender studies. She plans to weave in her interest in STEM to gain knowledge broadly.

Attending a charter high school gave Salam more than a diploma — it allowed her to reach her full potential, something she says all students can do with the proper support. 

“I don’t think I would have gotten accepted to Harvard if not for MMSA. Every student has potential, and if you want to unlock your potential, MMSA is the place to do it. They will help you,” she says. “What was most important was that support.”

In retrospect, Salam says this support at MMSA helped her recover from burnout. Her advice to fellow students is, “Don’t overdo it.” 

With an overcommitted course load and extracurricular courses on top, Salam says she learned the hard way that balance is critical to mental and physical health. “Take your education seriously, but take your health seriously as well,” she says. 

Foundation of diversity and excellence

A friend recommended the A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School to Katrina Azar’s family and her oldest sister started attending this K-12 charter public school in Southfield in second grade. Azar and all three of her siblings have since attended the school. “I started there in kindergarten. We are Middle Eastern, and the school really fits with our culture,” says Azar, who graduated from A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School this spring.

Azar applied broadly to colleges she thought would fit her interest in pre-law. She’ll be attending Yale this fall on a full-ride scholarship and was attracted to the university’s residential college system, an environment she says Manoogian School prepared her for. “There are 14 residential colleges at Yale. There’s room to learn, but you don’t get lost. The size, culture and STEAM appreciation is similar to what I had at Manoogian,” Azar explains.

At Yale, Azar looks forward to a diverse and engaging environment like the one she experienced at Manoogian. “I enjoy learning from a diverse group and developing bonds with people. We aren’t from the same background, but we come together and unite over similarities, even though we are different,” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity and something to take advantage of. The more diversity, the more we get to focus on each person, what they have been through and what they have overcome.” Manoogian’s Armenian cultural focus provided plenty of memory-making opportunities and rooted students in their experiences. 

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Katrina Azar, a graduate of A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School, will attend Yale. Photo credit: A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School

Azar appreciated most the collaboration between students, teachers and the administration to meet the students’ academic needs. “Because Manoogian is a charter school, we could speak with the principal and teachers to get what we wanted. I spoke with our principal and said I wanted to expand my understanding of world issues and be involved in debate, and the next semester there was a new global affairs class for me to take,” says Azar. She was thrilled that Dr. Hosep Torossian, Principal at A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School’s high school acted quickly to create a global affairs class.

In this new class, Azar gained skills in forming arguments and sharing facts — but she also learned how to listen effectively. “It really opened my eyes to other viewpoints,” she says. “It’s important to be factual and know what you are saying, but it’s also important to listen. The ethos, emotion, approach and stance to displaying your argument, it’s all important.”

Commitment to success

The opportunity to immerse herself in various classes at Manoogian offered Azar a well-rounded academic experience, and she is grateful for the practical skills she learned in her automotive elective, for example. “I learned skills everyone needs and even if you don’t need automotive knowledge, you do need to learn collaboration with partners, peers and teachers, plus problem solving,” she says. “At first, I didn’t understand the concepts of welding, but when I practiced it, I learned there’s an art and technique behind it. It makes sense.”

Essential to Azar’s success at Manoogian was the collective commitment to success she felt around her. As early as middle school, one teacher, in particular, saw her potential and encouraged Azar to apply to Ivy League colleges. Former Manoogian graduates provided mentorship Azar found was crucial while she prepared her college essays and applications. And, when she opted to take dual enrollment classes at Oakland Community College and Lawrence Technological University, counselors and administrators drove Azar and her peers to class. 

Azar’s experiences added up to much more than a high school diploma, she says. “To say you went to high school and graduated and believe it’s a done deal doesn’t take into account your growth academically or socially. At Manoogian, students are really integrated into the community, and that’s the case for every charter school you go to,” she says. “You get a great experience learning about different cultures, and you discover how you can make an impact. Plus, where else do secretaries drive you to class? I feel so much gratitude for Manoogian. What I got is so much more than a diploma for sure.”

Content sponsored by the Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. Learn more about A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School and Michigan Mathematics and Science Academy

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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