A Charter School Provided an Option When My Child Needed Something Different
By: Lisa Collins
At the age of ten, my son began expressing his hatred for school. For years, he has struggled with academics and was regularly sent out of class for behavioral issues. The school that I was zoned for worked with me and my child over the years to try to adequately educate my son, but we had grown frustrated with each other. Teacher after teacher called me to come to school for conferences about my child’s behavior and academic progress, but no matter which strategy we tried, my son was not improving and was spending more and more time out of the classroom not learning. He needed something different. Private schools, with their costly price tags, were not an option for me. Magnet schools, with limited space and selective academic requirements, were also not an option for my fifth grader. When I saw the flyer advertising Reimagine Prep Charter School at my son’s zoned school, I was immediately interested. I knew nothing about charter schools or the controversy surrounding them. I only knew that my child was not thriving in the school that he was in. When I discovered that Reimagine Prep works with struggling students to prepare them for success in college, I felt like it was the right place for my son. Having been there for months now, I have no doubt that I made the right choice.
What matters to me most about where my child goes to school is that he is learning. To be clear, going to a charter school has been an adjustment for my son. He did not magically become a perfect student because he enrolled in Reimagine. The difference has been that Reimagine has implemented an academic structure that is a perfect fit for my son. After he enrolled, he took a test to determine his reading level. He was then placed in a class where kids had similar reading scores. This allowed his teachers to focus intensely on the skills that students like him need. Additionally, it allowed him to learn in a safe environment where he did not have to worry about higher achieving students picking on him. In just a short time, I can see his growth. For the first time in his life, he confidently read to me from his assigned book, and he is excited about school. Just a few weeks ago, he began to casually mention his desire to attend college. Before ReImagine, he thought he was dumb and couldn’t learn. His goal was to quit school. Now, he is talking about going to college! This might have never happened if he had continued at his old school.
Another unique characteristic of Reimagine is the school’s merits and demerits system that every child is held accountable to. Teachers are able to make students responsible for each and every action that can distract them from learning, and students know exactly what is expected of them. There is no idle time. When my son is in class, he has to actively pay attention. Even when he is on the bus, he has to be reading. When he doesn’t meet expectations, he earns demerits which are tied to consequences. When he does meet expectations, he gets rewarded with merits and prizes. All children are consistently held to these expectations by everyone at the school. After his first day, my son came home and told me that he did not like it. He complained about all the rules and consequences, but now we can both see how he benefits from them. While the strict discipline has helped him tremendously, it does not mean that he has not struggled. What’s changed is that when the discipline system has not worked for him, his teachers and school leaders meet with us to come up with effective strategies that allow him to express his frustrations but keep him in class learning. For example, he’s allowed to give his teachers a hand signal when he feels like he is about to have an outburst, and he’s allowed to leave the class for a few minutes to calm down and then quickly return. This makes me believe that the teachers at Reimagine will not allow anyone to slip through the cracks, not even the kids who are difficult to manage.
Prior to learning about Reimagine, I didn’t know what I could do to help my child. My only option was to hope that there was some sort of program that was affordable to me that could supplement my son’s education. Thankfully, Reimagine has enabled me to choose a school that is highly beneficial to my child. I have no preference for whether the school is traditional or charter, private or parochial. Like most parents, I only want a school where my child can be successful. It is my hope that all parents can find a great school for their child because it can make a big difference.
Lisa Collins is a parent at Reimagine Prep Middle School in Jackson, MS. Reimagine Prep Middle School was one of the first charter schools to open in Mississippi in August 2015.