This piece was contributed by Hayleigh Daugherty, an eleventh grade student at AAEC Paradise Valley, a charter school in Arizona. She chronicles her story about how school choice has impacted her education, and her life.
When talking about school choice, you usually hear only the adult perspective. It’s always a parent, or a legislator, or an educator, or an advocate of some sort who wants share his or her opinion. Very rarely do you hear a student’s point-of-view, when we are the ones who this whole issue directly affects. My name is Hayleigh Daugherty, I am in eleventh grade at AAEC Paradise Valley charter school.
I was educated through sixth grade in district schools, receiving all A grades in my classes, but not always excelling on my AIMS scores or coping well with bullying from other students. Eight months into district middle school was all my family and I needed to realize that was not the best option for me. For 7th grade, I transferred to BASIS Scottsdale, where I stayed for four years. I firmly believe attending BASIS was one of the best decisions we ever made. BASIS is made unique by its teachers and its work ethic. The teachers are all experts in their fields, new graduates from prestigious universities or well-seasoned from several previous high schools, both in the United States and internationally. The curriculum they teach is grounded in the belief that students can be pushed to excellence. As strange as it sounds, I was given the opportunity to fail. I had to work as hard as I could to maintain a decent GPA; if I did not, the administration had no inhibitions about letting me repeat a grade. The teachers were all available to give any help I asked for, but there was no coddling, and that instilled a work ethic I will probably carry with me for the rest of my life. I was in an environment with other kids who were equally invested in their education. Because we were so focused on learning, we lacked a social hierarchy, making it easy to find a niche of friends who chose to stay out of trouble. Between that, the small class sizes, and the dedicated teachers, BASIS felt more like a tight-knit private college than a 5-12 school.
I did not leave BASIS because it stopped being a great school, rather, the intense math and science curriculum stopped meeting my needs. With my interest in becoming an attorney who advocates for mentally ill teens, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry or Honors Physics were not the classes for me. I had friends who went to AAEC and I decided it could be a better fit. This time, my parents left the final decision making to me. It was a painful change to make, leaving the school that had become my home, but it turned out to be another wise transfer. AAEC, though recognized for its specialty in equine science and agribusiness studies, is partnered with Paradise Valley Community College where the state charter pays for students’ tuition at the college for a dual enrollment with college classes counting both for high school hours and university transferable credits. Many students graduate from AAEC with an Associate degree from PVCC. I choose which classes I want to take and when, as long as I am in school for the required five hours per day. In this system I am able to completely customize my education to fit what I want to do with my life. By the time I graduate next year I will have 60 college credits to carry with me to a university.
These two schools have done more for me than I can adequately express. Both were incredibly cooperative with my 504, which gives accommodations for severe test anxiety, with teachers genuinely caring about my success and willing to give me any help I need. The schools have very big, albeit different, extracurricular programs. BASIS has Science Bowl, Quiz Bowl, Drama Club, Tri-M, and sports teams. AAEC offers FFA, Ecology Club, Student Horsemen’s Association, Rodeo Club, and many others.
I have big plans for the rest of my life. I want to go to an honors college, earn my law degree, defend mentally ill children in court, and go on to participate in politics to fix as many corrupted systems as I can. As much as the “typical teenager” side of me would love to never take another class for the remainder of time itself, I know I need a high quality education to get where I want to go. I am fortunate to live in a state where I have the opportunity to choose the schools where my goals are best achieved. I have learned from my experiences that schools do not work as cookie-cutter molds, and one size definitely does not fit all. Students have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own aspirations; where they live should be one of the last priorities when determining which school to attend. I believe in school choice because every child deserves the right to pursue success tailored to his or her own capabilities, and I know how essential a personalized education is to accomplishing those goals.