This week, OFY alum, Braxton Turner, shares his struggle with finding a high school that was the right fit for him, and how it happened in a totally unexpected way. As a true advocate for educational choice, Braxton believes (and we agree!) that every student has a unique story, and every student deserves a quality education from a school that fits. Here's what he wrote:
Whenever we hear the conversation on education or the need for more alternatives in education, we always hear about what parents want. Of course, that’s for good reason.
Look no further than recent parent opinion polls. When the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the California Charter School Association conducted a survey of parents they found nearly 75 percent of Los Angeles residents supported the expansion of charter schools - 69 percent actually wanted more in their neighborhood. When asked how they felt about under-performing schools, nearly 90 percent of parents said they felt every child attending a bad neighborhood high school should have the option of attending a better performing high school.
So, we know how the parents feel. There’s a more important question, however, that sometimes gets left out of the discussion: What’s it like for struggling students?
One of those students was me at one time. I grew up two entire time zones from here in Gary, IN. It wasn’t the ideal place to grow up. When I was younger, my parents separated, and my father moved to Los Angeles. I lived with my mother back in Gary. Sometimes I would fall asleep to the tragic music of sirens and gun shots.
At 16, I wanted a closer relationship with my father and I also wanted to get as far away from Gary as possible. Plans weren’t progressing as fast as I wanted them to, so I ran away from home, 2,000 miles away. After some time, I made it to California undetected even though my face was plastered on Wal-Mart posters. Once most of the drama over my disappearance passed, I finally reunited with my father. I was devastated when he was arrested just weeks later. In fact, he still hasn't been released.
As a minor, I had no parents to watch me. I had help, but I primarily survived solo. No school, no parents, and a new place. It may have been “fun” for a while, but I grew to really dislike it.
It may sound odd, but I yearned for school. I refused to graduate after the age of 18 and I really wanted to play basketball. After missing school for a year, my mother filed paperwork so that I was no longer a dependent. With passed time, it didn't seem my plan would go as I hoped. The state transfers I went through put my school credits into disarray.
Eventually, my sister's mom found Options for Youth.
She told me I would get my diploma, and that I should look into it. During orientation I immediately knew this was the school for me: long distance field trips, independent study, sports teams, and one-hour school days. It was an education that was actually designed for my wants and needs.
This place was perfect, having everything I asked for and more. OFY helped me complete my academic checklist while also offering memories like no other. I caught up on credits fast, played on the school’s basketball team, and I eventually graduated at 18. I connected with teachers easily, learned how to manage my time, traveled often, and met friends that I still stay in touch with today. I actually love Options so much that I stayed at my center after graduation for two years working as a Math Tutor.
In the constant discussion and ongoing debates over how we can change our education system for the better, we really need to hear more of the student perspective. There are so many of us who face uncertain futures because we lack options. It’s time we find those options we are looking for and the options we truly need.
Braxton McGhee is a graduate of the Southern California-based Options for Youth. For more information, use hashtag #CAWantsOptions.