Winning Essay: 2013 “School Choice” Essay Contest – Tiffany Rezendes
(July, 2013) Tiffany Rezendes is twenty years old. Tiffany was born and raised in Providence and educated in the Providence public school system. Unlike many of her friends, who dropped out under-performing schools, Tiffany was accepted to and graduated from Classical High School.
She now studies liberal arts and psychology at CCRI. After college, she wants to do whatever will do the most to help people in her community. She is considering ministry because she believes that empowering people religiously will make the biggest, most positive impact on all other areas of people’s lives.
Her winning essay is below …
School choice was never really an issue of interest to me for two reasons. One reason was that I had no idea what school choice even meant. I was never taught that the possibility existed for students to choose the school they wanted to go to regardless of where they live or of their family’s economic status. I was always taught that when it came to school you either found a way to come up with the money to pay for the good schools (Moses Brown, LaSalle Academy), was smart enough to get into the charter schools and college prep schools or to just settle for the public school closest to your house. The second reason why school choice was never important to me was that I had the opportunity to attend Classical High school, so I didn’t have to worry about being sent to just any public school in my area, I was already at one of the best schools in Rhode Island. However, to my dismay this wasn’t the reality for many of my friends, who had no other choice but to choose one of the below average public schools.
It isn’t surprising that on the list of the top schools in Rhode Island not one Providence public school (Mt. Pleasant, Hope, Central) is listed (U.S.News & World Report LP.). The top school on the list is Classical high school, which you take a test to get into, and the only other school on the list from Providence is Times2 Academy, which is a charter school, which you have to be chosen from a lottery to get into. This leaves the “choice” for students to be really no choice at all. You either get into one of the “smart” schools, pay to go to the good schools, or settle for the many below average public schools. A choice would mean that all students regardless of geographical location, economic status, or level of intelligence would have the opportunity to attend an institution where they know they can receive top-notch instruction from teachers who truly care about their educational success.
Many of my friends and fellow junior high classmates were there with me on the day of the Classical test. And sadly I can say that many of them were not accepted and because there is no school choice in Rhode Island they were forced to choose one of the local public schools in their district. And to further this point it pains me to say that I found out that two of them that I knew of dropped out of high school because they lost interest and motivation. I’m going to focus on one of these people for this essay.
My best friend Jess attended three Providence public schools within just the time span of her freshman year of high school. She went to these schools because they were the only options presented to her. I can imagine how demoralizing it must have been for her to not be able to attend the school she wanted (Classical) and then have to settle for one of the low standard public schools which everyone knows have horrible ratings when it comes to test scores and graduation rates. I strongly believe that if Jess had the opportunity to choose one of the top schools like Moses Brown or LaSalle, she would have graduated and would have been in college now. Jess was willing to work hard if she was put in an environment that would challenge her, but I think she just gave up once she found out she wasn’t accepted into Classical because all her hopes of having a great education had to be lowered to settle for a below average school experience.
In Providence the mindset of the youth is pretty much that, if you want a good education you have to get into Classical and if you can’t do that than your next best option is one of the charter schools because no one can afford the private schools. Everyday students are making decisions to drop out because of the lack of excitement to learn in their classes, the lack of creativity with which classes are taught, the outdated information being fed to them, and teachers who don’t care enough.
School choice solves these problems not only by giving students the opportunity to attend high achieving institutions and an equal chance at a good education, but it also causes competition among the local schools which will cause them to improve. If those low scoring schools have no students they will be forced to improve their curriculum, making it more relevant and interesting to the students and also to only hire and keep teachers who are well qualified and who really care about the education of their students.
I strongly believe that school choice plays a pivotal role in changing our broken school system into one that will thrive and become more relevant, inspiring, encouraging, challenging, and one that will better prepare its students for whatever they decide to pursue after high school whether that means entering the workforce, becoming an entrepreneur or entering a post secondary institution. There is no excuse that can explain why statistics show that so many Providence public school students score below average in math, reading and writing and upon entering college have to retake basic remedial classes, which they should have already been taught in high school. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have no idea why we must take these basic math, english, and history classes again if this is material that we were expected to master in high school. Year and year again students are taught the same information, yet still do not understand it. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that information is not being taught, its being crammed in, rushed through and passed over. Students aren’t being challenged to learn through application and critical thinking, but rather being taught to simply memorize facts in order to pass tests and then forget the information. And even though I attended Classical high school, “the best school in Rhode Island” I still rarely had the experience of being able to critically think and apply what I was learning.
The question before us now is not whether school choice could change people’s lives but rather when will we allow this change to take place? It is clear that school choice will make a difference, but are we going to give it a chance? Obviously it is clear that I believe we should, and I know many people who also agree. Will you join me in giving every student an equal opportunity to pursue an educational experience that will actually do what it is supposed to? High schools that will turn students into informed citizens, equipped with the necessary knowledge to make them capable of walking their path to success regardless of where that path may lead.