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My view: Charter schools fill a need traditional schools don't

Canyon Rim Academy
Canyon Rim Academy
Deseret News

Academics are undeniably the backbone of a quality education. However, my personal involvement with numerous schools in various capacities has opened my eyes to a major shortfall in traditional, academic-only approaches to education — they do not provide a comprehensive educational experience for students.

An academic-only approach to education leaves many children behind, and essential developmental characteristics go unmeasured. Traditional standardized testing lacks the ability to gauge a student as a whole person. This type of testing doesn’t take into account elements necessary to a successful future, such as social-emotional learning.

Students realize greater achievement when healthy lifestyle habits and performance character traits are integrated as foundational components of their educational experience. This is where traditional public schools too often fail. Instead of focusing on the importance of these vital elements of a comprehensive educational package, they simply offer them as add-ons.

To give students the competitive edge necessary to become well-rounded and successful adults, physical activity, nutrition and performance character trait-building must be prioritized and be emphasized along with academics. Failing to completely integrate these essential elements into children’s education leaves them with a deficit that will ultimately put them at a disadvantage with more well-rounded peers.

As a parent and former educator, I have long been interested in nontraditional school models and have found that public, tuition-free charter schools often offer solutions to these problems. I chose Athlos Academy because, at this school, students experience a program that fully integrates healthy habits and performance character, in addition to academics.

Not every student fits the traditional public school mold, and charter schools fill this gap by offering innovative approaches to education tailored to the individual needs of students. Charter schools can provide unique means of engaging students and helping them build life skills essential to success. In doing all of this, charter schools open the door to learning opportunities not present in most traditional institutions.

Those in the education realm who call for reduced funding to charter schools, citing less taxpayer oversight and lower standards than traditional public schools, are terribly mistaken. A recent study conducted by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools notes that public charter schools are approved and overseen by a government-endorsed entity, making them directly accountable to the public.

Nationally, enrollment in charter schools has grown by 62 percent in the past five years, according to the NAPCS. In Utah alone, enrollment in public charter schools increased by 11.9 percent in 2014, according to the Utah State Office of Education Superintendent’s Annual Report. These statistics clearly indicate that parents are choosing charter schools, that the demand for them is at an all-time high, and that school choice needs to be a priority. Between 2010 and 2013, 15 out of 16 independent studies concluded that students attending charter schools performed better academically than their traditional school peers.

It is vital for us to shape our youths into the leaders of tomorrow and into adults who can meet the challenges that life inevitably throws at them with confidence and creativity. Charter schools are the places where this type of education is fostered, where children and parents are offered choices in how and what their children learn, and where children are molded into well-rounded adults.

Andy Lavin is board chair of Athlos Academy of Utah.