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In an age of educational disruption, charter schools give children a boost

This National School Choice Week, we celebrate the charter schools who’ve adapted and excelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A young girl holds a sign as about 500 students representing some 135 charter schools from St. George to Logan attend a rally in the Capitol rotunda on the first day of the 2020 Utah Legislature in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Well over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln eloquently described our nation as “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all ... are created equal,” and questioned whether or not a nation, so conceived, could long endure. I propose that our nation has endured, and will continue to endure, to a large extent because of our commitment to the vision of a free and equitable education for every child.

Right now, we hear a lot of buzz around the idea of equity in education. The COVID-19 pandemic produced a worldwide disruption throwing us all into a panic of one kind or another. Educators are feeling this sense of disruption as much or perhaps even more than most. We lose sleep over each child who has lost touch with their school support structure. However, I am keenly reminded that this is where the public charter school has distinct advantages.

As independent entities, charter schools exist in an astounding array of varieties. Just as Goldilocks searched to find the porridge, the chair and the bed that were “just right” for her needs, families can search for a model of education that is “just right” for their child. Within the panoply of charter schools, there exists one that can support your child’s specific and unique academic, social and emotional needs.

Our school, Walden School of Liberal Arts, was designed to foster independence, curiosity and resilience. Our philosophy centers around a sense of belonging — a sense of community. Education is student led and teacher supported. The classrooms have freedom within limits. Compassion and social cooperation lead to the sense of an inclusive and equitable community.

Our school, like other charter schools, has found that adaptability is one of our greatest resources in meeting the goal of ensuring equity for all students. In response to the pandemic, we blended virtual and in-person learning. By combining online learning and in-person support, we have kept our classes small so that teachers know each student (whether online or in person) and can adapt instruction to individual needs.

Early on, we recognized that students need time to socialize. In October, we provided an outdoor, physically distanced Halloween movie night. Our large field was filled with students, each in their own space, who had the shared experience of watching an outdoor movie in costume. Other regular activities reach out to all Walden students to help them stay connected to their school community.

We have been inspired by other charter schools who have adapted to school closures in ways that promote equity and inclusion. We have seen:

  • Teachers posting positive messages to their students on Instagram. (Optimism creates a sense of hope.)
  • High school graduates highlighted personally on social media. (Accomplishment supports confidence.)
  • All neighborhood children being fed, not just those attending the local charter or neighborhood school. (Altruism builds community.)
  • Cultural celebrations held virtually, with students filming dances and musical performances to be shared with the school community. (Being a part of something greater than ourselves instills a sense of belonging.)

Charters schools are a crucial part of our communities. The flexibility and nimble qualities of each charter school have helped to sustain us during the pandemic. Finding an educational experience that is “just right” for every student has been challenging for every parent, educator and community member during the pandemic, but the vision of providing an equitable educational experience for every child remains central to our efforts. Through charter schools, we Utahns can build an even greater commitment to each and every child.

Now is the time to seek a “just right” fit for your child. Jan. 24-30, 2021, is National School Choice Week. Our new governor has also set it aside as School Choice Week in Utah. This is the perfect time to explore the educational opportunities that work for your child: the hours they spend at school; the people they spend those hours with; and the things those people teach them will shape the rest of their lives.

I invite you to take a little time to explore what educational options are best for your family. Might I suggest a deeper look at a charter school near you?

Lois Bobo is the executive director of the Walden School of Liberal Arts in Provo.