Sending your child to a charter public school is a conscious choice. It’s a choice that is available to families whether the charter school is right on the corner or located in a neighboring community. What’s for certain is when parents take the time to get to know what a charter school has to offer, they’re better positioned to choose the educational environment that’s best for their child.
But when that child grows up and becomes a teacher, then makes the conscious decision to return to the charter school they attended, there’s no better endorsement of the school. And it happens more often than you’d think.
We caught up with six professional teachers who are working in the very schools they attended as children. We wanted to know what they remember, what they liked best — and why they returned “home” to teach. Their stories reveal the quality of the charter schools they attended and answer the question, “Who attends charter schools?”
Why they attended charter schools
Danielle Anderson, Lakeytra Coleman and Tiffani Wilkins all attended Detroit Premier Academy, a K-8 charter public school in Detroit — and it was the only school in their neighborhood. They all remember being happy to attend a school that had genuine classrooms, rather than larger spaces that were broken up to accommodate students, which Coleman and Wikins experienced prior to attending DPA.
Claire Hedke attended Summit Academy North in Huron Township because her mother co-founded the charter school district. She attended with her brothers and sisters from her first preschool day until she graduated high school. Brooke Lenart attended Summit Academy North because her parents saw a clear difference in the education and learning environment, compared to their local public school. Ryan Glaser’s parents were attracted to the small class sizes and multigrade classrooms, and the convenience of Summit Academy North, since it was close to their home.
Their memories are rich
In both school environments, each future teacher found caring teachers as well as a wide variety of programs and extracurricular activities that enriched their experiences. All three teachers from DPA were pleased that their school offered specials like band, art and athletics — and had all the materials and equipment needed for these activities.
Here are some memories they shared:
“My teachers were relatable, not robots. They talked to you like you were their own kids. If you were behind, they would work with you to find out what was wrong and get you back on track. You could tell they cared, and they earned a lot of parent support because of how they communicated with the kids,” says Anderson, who teaches second grade at DPA. She attended DPA from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“My friends and I had so much fun growing up together and joining sports teams. My best memory from competitive cheerleading was when our team made it to regionals for the first time in Summit history,” says Lenart, who teaches first grade at Summit Academy North. “I also have many memories of being involved in multiple extracurricular activities. I was in the marching band, cheerleading and cross country at the same time! My teachers and coaches supported me as I cheered on the sidelines of the football games, ran across the field in my cheerleading uniform to march with the band, and then woke up early the next day to run a cross-country race.”
“There was a lot of access to technology. We all got our own Macbook,” says Hedke. “I loved being involved in cheerleading, drama club and National Junior Honor Society.” In high school, Hedke took a class in child development and spent time in the kindergarten classroom each day. “That is when I knew I wanted to be a teacher.” Today, Hedke is a preschool GSRP associate teacher at Summit Academy North.
Why they came back
When the DPA teachers were ready to choose a district for their professional careers, they returned to where they were comfortable as former students — even though each had offers from multiple districts. And, they came back to provide the same level of attention they received as kids.
“We all came back because we saw what was needed to help today’s generation, to get back to building those individual relationships that helped us when we were younger,” says Coleman.
“Let’s be real about it: this part of Detroit is an impoverished area. When the surroundings don’t look great, it’s easy for kids to get caught up thinking that they can’t do something or be successful. I came back to show kids it is possible. I tell them ‘I literally grew up right down the street.’ Don’t let your environment frame your mentality. This is a stepping stone to wherever you want to go,” says Anderson.
And, they saw familiar faces among their colleagues; at least eight staff members, from custodians to teachers to deans, were still working at DPA.
The Summit Academy North teachers also returned to the place they felt most at home, ready to continue building memories — this time as teachers.
“I was nervous about finding my first teaching position, but I knew that I would feel at home at Summit Academy North. I knew that there would be familiar faces there and that I would receive the support needed as a first-year teacher,” says Lenart.
“There was an opening in the newly established GRSP program. I always knew I wanted to work with younger students. I had been going to school for early childhood and was nannying my niece. It was the perfect timing and opportunity for me to fulfill my dream,” says Hedke.
What they love about teaching at a charter school
“I like the diversity of the student population and getting the opportunity to teach kids from all over the metro Detroit area. I love the autonomy I have when it comes to my lesson planning and instruction. I also appreciate the family type of feel that Summit has. From the superintendent and admin to the custodial staff, I feel like at least once a week I have a nice conversation that leaves my day for the better,” says Glaser, who teaches PE and health for grades six through eight at Summit Academy North.
“I enjoy teaching at a charter school because I feel that I receive more support from other teachers, staff, coaches and administration than I would in a public school. Charter schools often have a smaller district, so staff members are actually able to get to know one another throughout the district,” says Lenart.
“We are a very close staff and we love all of our students. I’m also able to be a part of the decision-making process. This is home for me,” says Hedke.
Who attends charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools — and they offer choice for families. Students don’t have to test into charter schools, and nor do they have to pay tuition to attend.
According to Glaser, charter schools are for “students from all walks of life who are looking for a quality education and a welcoming environment with educational options apart from the traditional public school education.”
Glaser’s peers at Summit Academy North agree. Hedke’s answer to the question of who attends charter schools are, “families that want a choice for their child,” and Lenart says “parents who want the best education for their students attend charter schools.”
At DPA, the teachers’ responses are similar and underline the fact that charter schools are public schools. “We serve all students with all types of learning needs and styles, all learning together in the same classrooms,” says Wilkins. “We have students who are determined to succeed here, no matter what is going on behind the scenes in their lives outside of school or what pathway it takes for them to learn,” Coleman adds.
It’s a myth that charter schools are for kids who can’t succeed in traditional public schools. Overwhelmingly, these six teachers see charter schools as centers of learning excellence — and they’re schools that parents can consciously choose for their children. They push back on beliefs that charter schools are in any way inferior.
“As a product of a charter public school, it’s frustrating to hear people say they are bad. If charter schools are bad, why have so many people who have attended them gone on to college and earned degrees? Why do so many former alumni choose to enroll their kids in the same schools?” says Anderson.
“People like me attend charter public schools,” she adds. “I see myself in so many of these students. They’re ambitious. They’re leaders.”
Content sponsored by The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. Learn more about Detroit Premier Academy by visiting its website. Learn more about Summit Academy North Schools by visiting its website.