This spring, my oldest daughter will graduate from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Next fall, she will enter Columbia University on the path to becoming a doctor of physical therapy who will spend her career helping people heal.
It’s a future that I, having been born and raised in Newark, could only have dreamed of for my daughter. But it’s now a reality thanks to a charter school. Having seen firsthand what charter schools are capable of doing for students in Newark, I simply can’t imagine why lawmakers in Trenton would even consider limiting access to charter schools for other students like my daughter.
Our story is like many others in Newark and other urban school districts around the country. My daughter had a good experience in the traditional public school system. The teachers were wonderful, but the school just wasn’t meeting her needs. Where our story differs is that my daughter was drawn in the lottery to enroll in Robert Treat Academy (RTA) Charter School.
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At RTA, there was no limit or barrier to her curiosity and academic growth. More importantly, there was no limit on what she could accomplish. That’s because Robert Treat Academy doesn’t just teach subjects; it teaches students to set lofty goals and equips them with the tools to achieve them. That’s something I saw as a parent and still see as an administrative assistant at RTA today. I took a job there because I wanted to be part of its life-changing work.
Thanks to the dedication of the faculty and staff at Robert Treat Academy, which included a lot of early mornings and late nights, my daughter quickly caught up with her peers in math and writing skills. She secured a scholarship to go to high school at Newark Academy, will soon graduate from NJIT and is preparing for a future where the sky is the limit. None of what her bright future holds would have been possible on a different educational road.
Not every family has the same opportunity, and now that both my daughters are on firm educational footing — my younger daughter is on a similar educational path after also graduating from TRTA — I can’t help but think of all the other families who are facing similar challenges to the ones we faced, but without the same access.
I know there’s a lot of rhetoric around charter schools in Newark and other cities in New Jersey and around the country, but I won’t pretend to know all the arguments. What I do know is that charter schools are an awesome opportunity for families like mine, and that limiting the growth of charter schools as some in Trenton have suggested, would do a terrible disservice to families who need and deserve more options for their children’s education.
Instead of limiting access to public charter schools in Newark and across the state, our lawmakers should be doing more to expand access. I believe this so much that I’m joining dozens of other parents in Trenton on Monday, Dec. 14, encouraging lawmakers to listen to the voices of parents like me whose children’s lives have been changed by charter schools and parents who are hungry for the same opportunities my daughters have been given.
Lucy Bernardo was born and raised in Newark, where her daughters attended Robert Treat Academy Charter School.