As a parent, when I think of school choice, I naturally think of how it applies to my children. Recently, however, I came across the news that the South Carolina Senate Education Committee passed a bill allowing students to attend public school in another district if they desire. Immediately I was taken back to my own public school experience and the fact that having a choice kept me from dropping out of high school.
At the start of high school, I was living in the city and attending a low performing school. Not long into the school year, I moved to the country in another state. The transition from city life to country life was difficult to say the least. No one dressed the way I did and I was immediately ridiculed for my lack of daisy dukes and hair bows. While I made friends, I also made enemies simply because I was the new girl. Typical high school drama, but of course it’s awful when you are in the middle of it. Being the tiny town it was, I couldn’t escape the stigma of being from out of town. In tenth grade, things escalated. My breaking point came during Civics class. A student came into class during the year-end test and threatened me; the teacher did nothing. That summer I decided to drop out of high school.
As I was talking with a friend about my decision and how great it would be to just get my GED and move on, she begged me to reconsider. She attended school in the next small town over and said I should go there. I couldn’t imagine one small town school being any different from the first, but after some convincing I decided to try. I’m not sure how my mom made it happen, the term “school choice” didn’t exist that I knew of. But somehow she got me into the high school in the district next door and I began again.
This time, high school was different. My friend introduced me around, everyone was friendly and I fit right in. I made lots of great memories and learned to appreciate the good things about country life. After graduation, I went back to the city to attend college. Having experienced small class sizes and the benefits that come with that, I chose a small, private college. Every so often I wonder what my life would have been like if I had dropped out of school. I’m glad I don’t know.
Last year I found my old friend on Facebook (of course) and was able to thank her for saving me from dropping out of high school. Not only was I lucky to have her, I was lucky I had a choice. I’m surprised that so many years later students in South Carolina have not had the opportunity I did. It seems like such a small detail in the school choice movement but it truly made all the difference for me.
There are many reasons to support school choice. For my own children, I worry about what they are (and are not) being taught in public school. Scientific theories are taught as fact, common core math requires video explanations sent home to parents, and history lessons are politically selective. For other parents I know, special needs are a concern and, if they aren’t going through the maze of having a special needs student in public school, they’ve decided to homeschool. My children haven’t dealt with bullying, but if they do I will certainly be exercising my choice to protect them from what I went through. We do not currently have many choices in our area of South Carolina but I am hopeful that will change. Allowing open enrollment in all schools in the state will be a great step in the right direction and, for some, may be the one that makes all the difference.