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Letter: Charter schools offer a second chance to students

Last Friday, I attended the high school graduation ceremony for Oakland FlexTech High School, a charter school in Farmington Hills. What I witnessed had nothing to do with debates over teachers unions, budget items or the aptitude of public schools.

Instead, I saw first-hand the soul of the charter school movement.

To the outside observer, this ceremony looked like a normal graduation, albeit smaller than average. Forty-nine students received their diplomas. As each graduate trotted across the stage, their name appeared on the projector screen with their future plans.

But each of these students had overcome significant odds to attend this ceremony. Some had suffered in or even been kicked out of the public schools. Others searched in vain for a private school where they could succeed. All were united by the fact that the traditional system of education had failed them. FlexTech served as their last hope.

FlexTech’s motto is “high school designed by you.” Instead of molding the student to fit the curriculum, the school molds the curriculum to fit the student, embracing project-based learning where small classes and individualized attention is the norm. In fact, every student is assigned to an advisor who meets with the students on a regular basis to address their successes, struggles, goals, and aspirations.

While certainly out of the ordinary, for these graduates — many who had nowhere else to turn — it worked. During the ceremony, students presented flowers to the advisors who had spent countless hours laughing with, crying alongside, and guiding them.

Several students spoke about their struggles both before and during FlexTech, and each tearfully expressed his or her thankfulness for the teachers who believed in them when no one else did. Lastly, a board member presented a scholarship, donated by a grateful FlexTech alum, that would be given to the most improved graduate.

As I took it all in, I began to understand the students, teachers, staff and parents’ emotion. These are the kids the world often leaves behind. But we were celebrating their graduation. They graduated because they were surrounded by individuals who educated them in the personalized way that they needed to be educated.

And therein lies the soul of the charter school movement. It is not about teachers unions or budgetary interests of the public school system. Instead, it is about supporting those students the traditional system is ill equipped to support. It is about providing hope to students who feel like there is none. And it is about giving those without a chance an opportunity to succeed.

FlexTech changed the course of those 49 students’ lives. One of them happened to be my sister. And for that, my family and I are eternally grateful.

Jacob R. Weaver, recent graduate

University of Michigan Law School