Graduation can be unachievable for students with institutional debt.

Graduation season is always special. Seeing the culmination and celebration of a year of student progress, learning, and teaching brings with it pride and a sense of hope for all our graduates’ futures. This graduation season is particularly personal for me as it’s my first year at the State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, and I’ve become intimately familiar with our schools, their educators, scholars, and families.

We have newer charter schools seeing their students move to new grades within their school for the first time, fully enrolled schools seeing their kids spend the entirety of their educational journey with those schools, and seasoned schools whose alumni are seen as key contributors to their schools and communities.

This week I saw heart-warmingly lively kindergarteners and first graders of the Booker T. Washington Academy (New Haven) hop, skip, and jump across the stage, and the following day I witnessed the more mature classes celebrate the culmination of their time at Amistad Academy Middle School as they head to the critical life stage (and emotional rollercoaster) of high school.

And graduation season hit even closer to home as I celebrated my niece’s pre-kindergarten moving up ceremony at her local preschool (the notion of a preschool graduation is admittedly one of which I’m still a bit amused and perhaps a little jealous). I also hear the increasingly cheerful tones of the educators in my own family, who, after working hard all year, approach their last days of school before heading to some much-deserved time to rest.

My colleagues Michele and Chris have also been at these great school events — moving to the beat at school concerts at Brass City Charter School in Waterbury, clapping along as students of the Bridge Academy of Bridgeport join the prestigious National Honor Society, watching tassels excitedly fly in the air at Jumoke Academy and Common Ground, and joyfully tearing up at the senior signing day of Achievement First Hartford High School.

Whether it is a student moving on from their first elementary grade, high school grade, or about to embark on the college journey (for many in their families the first ever to do so), every student we saw and every school we visited reminded us of the importance of what we do and why we do it. In these students, we see greatness all around us, and that greatness will change our world.

At the Northeast Charter Schools Network, we wake up every day inspired to take on this challenge and demand of ourselves, “What are we doing to make our educational environment a better and stronger one for our communities, families and kids than it was yesterday?”

We are reminded every time we see a tassel tossed in the air, every time a student walks jubilantly across the stage, and every time a parent or family relative joyfully hugs their kids in celebration, of both the pressing need and vital importance for these educational options to be made available to our kids.

It’s a beautiful day to celebrate our kids, our families, our communities, and their triumphs and successes. But let’s not forget that to keep these celebrations going and thriving we must do all that we can to advocate for our schools and for the things that will make them successful and sustainable.

That means, among other things, opening more high-quality charter schools (which the State Board of Education has the chance to do with their pending votes on the proposed charter schools in Danbury and Norwalk) and fostering strong district-charter partnerships and collaboration.

With the promise of the successes of our current generation comes the immense responsibility of paving the way for our future ones. Join us in this charge and let’s do this together – because today we celebrate, and tomorrow we get back to work.

Yam Menon is the Connecticut State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

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