Seventeen years ago, the first public charter schools in Brooklyn opened their doors. Today, they serve 43,000 students in the borough, according to Fatimah Barker, chief external officer at Achievement First Charter Schools.
“No matter our neighborhood, we all stand united in support of our schools and what they have meant for our children and our communities,” she said. “These schools were built on the idea that Brooklyn families, no matter what neighborhood or zip code they came from, can have great access to public schools.
“The idea that schools could be accountable, not just to leaders in City Hall, but to the families they serve,” she added. “The idea that education for city kids shouldn’t just be about textbooks and test prep, but about culture and caring.”
Though charter schools have expanded largely in neighborhoods like Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York, Barker said they’re “ready to serve 43,000 more” students.
“Even after all this time, it’s still not easy,” she said. “We still have to fight for our kids’ basic rights. We still have to fight to be treated fairly.”
Growing up in Brownsville, Barker said she has seen what happened to kids when “the bar is set too low for their future.” She wants to raise the standard so they are prepared for college and a fulfilling life.
“Our kids deserve better,” she said. “They deserve schools filled with joy, rigor, love and support.”
She implored parents, guardians and educators to “dig in” and keep fighting for charter school expansion.
“For all the challenges we face as a nation, the road to equality still begins in our schools,” Barker added. “Each and every one of us is part of that movement for justice.”
Charter school parents attested to the difference the schools are making in their children’s lives. Cynthia Cummings, who has two children at Success Academy schools in Bed-Stuy, recalled when she moved to Brooklyn from Liberia at just 10 years old.
She said her biggest challenge was going to school and walking into a classroom for the first time. On her first day, she said a teacher asked her to read a passage in front of the class. When she couldn’t, the teacher yelled at her.
“I will never forget that moment,” she said.
But the teacher next door came over and “took me under her wings,” Cummings said.
“She helped me everytime she had a chance,” she said. “She saw me for what I was, a child full of potential.
“When it came time for me to send my children to school, I thought back to that second teacher who saw me as a child full of potential,” Cummings added. “I searched until I found a school that saw kids the same way. It is Success Academy. “
Cummings said it was the right choice. Her son Kevin, in the sixth grade, has developed an interest in computer programming and art. Kelsey, her fourth-grade daughter, is a “budding mathematician.”
“Both kids love science,” she said. “They love it so much, they do science projects on their own.”
The Bed-Stuy parent also shared that her kids were so excited for the first day of the school year. They got up and dressed even before the alarm clock rang.
“That’s the feeling that Success Academy and public charter schools give children,” she said. “Every single child in New York City deserves to have that kind of feeling.”
Cheryl Ashton, who lives in East Flatbush, said she likes charter schools because they’re more community based. Her niece goes to Kings Collegiate Charter School, part of the Uncommon Schools network.
“I think she’s very focused and disciplined when it comes to doing her homework,” Ashton said. “She’s always anxious to be up in the morning and get to school on time.”
She was also pleased with the principals and teachers, who “know every kid there by name, which says a lot.”
For Tameka Bradley, whose son is a fourth-grade student at Achievement First Brownsville, the charter school was more accommodating for her son, who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“The district school in my area just couldn’t provide him with the system he needed to succeed,” she said. “Achievement First Brownsville gave him an opportunity to excel. It was the right fit for him.
“Without the opportunity to go to this public charter school, he would have fallen through the cracks and be left behind,” she added.
Bradley said no child in New York City should be denied the opportunity to go to a great school. Right now, she said, many are being left behind, with more than 10,000 students are stuck on a waiting list in Brooklyn.
“They’re desperate to get the amazing education that public charter schools offer,” she said. “Every child from Brownsville to Bed-Stuy deserve a world-class education. We’re ready to give it to them.”
Bradley also asked all parents at the rally to tell their elected officials to support the expansion of charter schools.
“Tell them that you’re tired of having your zip code determine your child’s future,” she said. “Tell them that you want every kid in Brooklyn to have access to the very best education.”