Keep Moving Forward: Philly Students Celebrate Choice

Last week the nation celebrated school choice, with thousands of student-centered events taking place across the United States.

On Wednesday, hundreds of yellow-scarved, sign-bearing students from the Philly area filled Renaissance Academy Charter School in Phoenixville, PA. They danced, sang, and cheered as the speakers explained how school choice transformed their lives.

Gina Guarino Buli, CEO of Renaissance Academy, spoke of the countless opportunities provided by choice—opportunities students didn’t have just decades ago. “Twenty years ago a school like this would not have existed.” She encouraged students to continue refusing to “take no for an answer” when it comes to their educational opportunities.

Otto Banks of REACH Foundation, a school choice grassroots organization, learned this lesson at a young age. He recounted driving through a treacherous snowstorm with his mother, who continually pressed him to “keep moving forward” until they cleared the weather. It wasn’t until they were through that Otto’s mother explained the storm as a metaphor for life. Keep moving forward. No matter what.

Students themselves emphasized the need for unique students to access unique educational options.

Student Lilian Graston, a junior at Esperanza Cyber Charter School, explains how the district school works for many, but “for me, I needed another option.” Through her experiences, she’s seen how “people have gone from failing and struggling, to success.”

Ethan Francisco, a student from Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School, echoed these benefits. “Choice is the freedom that allows us to determine our path to the future…school choice allows us to embrace the idea of diversity.”

Ana Meyers, Executive Director of PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools closed out the event with her own story. Ana had always assumed that “if you study and work hard things will go well for you,” but that assumes that students have opportunities at their disposal. As a young Brazilian immigrant in California, Ana’s mother had to provide a false address for Ana to attend a school that could meet her needs. Sadly, this story is all too common for families who feel trapped in their zip codes.

We’ve come a long way. Thousands of Pennsylvania students are empowered through education choice. But with waiting lists for charter schools and tax credit scholarships, we still have a long way to go. Our kids deserve better, right now. Let’s raise the limits for students, and give every child the opportunity to thrive.