Courtesy of Achievement First

When my daughter Nyjah was in elementary school, her teachers told me she was falling behind. They said that she was reading below grade level, and that she might need to be put into a special education program.

But once she changed schools and started fifth grade at Achievement First Hartford Academy Elementary School, everything changed. Now, Nyjah is a new graduate of Achievement First Hartford High School. Last month, she attended a Senior Signing Day celebration at her public charter school, where she announced her plans to attend the University of Connecticut and study political science.

I’ve watched my daughter grow into a young woman confident about her academic abilities and excited for her future, and I know that AF Hartford has played a huge role in this journey.

Before going to AF Hartford, Nyjah associated school with stress and anxiety. She used to cry when I asked her to do something as simple as finish her reading assignments. But suddenly, after switching schools, she was sailing through her homework. She would ask me to go to the book store with her, and would finish huge Harry Potter books in just a few days. She developed a love of learning, thanks to the teachers and staff at her new school.

Everyone at AF Hartford believed in Nyjah. Instead of telling me that she was struggling and then moving on, they invested in her and made sure she stayed on track. They also encouraged her to have big dreams for her future. Funnily enough, Nyjah’s fifth grade class was named “UConn,” after the university her teacher had gone to. This let Nyjah and her peers know, from a very young age, that college was a real possibility for them.

These efforts continued when Nyjah got to high school. AF Hartford High prepared her for college level work with Advanced Placement classes, and offered her help with every step of her college application. They even had a special class entirely focused on applying to and getting ready for college.

All of this has deeply affected Nyjah. She’s now on the path toward achieving her goals, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

I like to tell my daughter’s success story not just because I’m her mother, but because I think it needs to be heard. Thousands of students in Connecticut still go through exactly what Nyjah was going through before she found the school community that supported her at Acheivement First.

There’s an easy way for state leaders to make this happen: by supporting public charter schools like Achievement First.

Connecticut needs to make sure that public charter schools can keep up their important work, and can grow to accept more students who are struggling. The only way this will happen is if state leaders treat and fund public charter schools fairly.

Currently, public charter school students like my daughter receive around $4,000 less in public funding than other students. This is wrong, and it’s why I’ve become involved in this cause as a parent activist and intend to stay involved until fair funding becomes a reality.

Having sent my daughter to public schools for more than a decade, I can see the difference between a normal school and an extraordinary one. An extraordinary public school guides students from childhood into the beginning of adulthood, never giving up on them or letting them fall by the wayside. That’s what Achievement First Hartford did for Nyjah. It’s the kind of life changing school that every family should be able to choose, and the kind of school I’m happy to fight for.

Elfreda Debow lives in Hartford.

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