Osakis students lobby for charter schoolsWhen there’s a room full of lobbyists and a busy senator only has a few minutes, it’s hard to be heard. Lakes Area Charter School students experienced that feeling firsthand and met the challenge head on during a recent visit to the Minnesota State Capitol.
By: Greta Petrich, Osakis Review
When there’s a room full of lobbyists and a busy senator only has a few minutes, it’s hard to be heard.
Lakes Area Charter School students experienced that feeling firsthand and met the challenge head on during a recent visit to the Minnesota State Capitol.
When standing before lawmakers lobbying for charter schools, Indigo Harder felt empowered – she spoke out, hoping to be a voice for others in similar situations.
For children who’ve spent a lot of time feeling overlooked or pre-judged, Casey Jenson said it was obvious which legislators took their stories to heart and who had already made up their minds and would continue to be against charter schools.
Nonetheless, it gave them an appreciation for the legislative process and why every vote counts.
Jago Griego enjoyed the opportunity to support a good cause, something that wouldn’t just help him, but many other kids in similar situations.
“It was cool to see these important people trying to understand our experiences,” he said.
According to Dave Buker, Lakes Area Charter School director, he believes that many of these lawmakers will now picture the students and consider their stories before casting a vote relating to charter schools.
The charter groups came before legislators with many issues – un-allocation, permanent school fund revenue and aid payment schedule for certain charter schools, to name a few.
The main goal of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools is to remind lawmakers that charter schools are public schools – and should be entitled to the same funding opportunities.
For example, charter schools are totally dependent on state funding – they do not collect from local property tax revenue.
“Low funding for charter schools makes us, as students, feel inferior, like we’re not worth as much as the other students,” Indigo said. “Everyone’s hard up for money, we understand that. Shouldn’t education for everyone be a priority?”
A girl who missed two years of school out of fear of leaving her house, Indigo Harder of Long Praire now considers Lakes Area Charter School a “safe place” where she can shed her fears and thrive.
The Browerville teen struggles with anxiety and depression, yet she knows school is the best place for her.
Knowing and doing are two different things, she explained. Fear of retribution for not fishing homework led her to miss school – the more she missed contributed to more fear that she was becoming delinquent.
The relaxed, low-pressure environment at Lakes Area Charter School provides a unique support system for Indigo. She no longer fears asking questions or exposing her “issues.”
If a student struggles due to personal depression or family alcoholism, for example, the teachers make a point to discuss those issues with the class, according to Indigo.
“I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who struggles,” she said. “Life isn’t easy. We all make mistakes and we all need to take responsibility for our own lives.”
As a boy who asked “too many questions,” Casey Jenson of Starbuck believes he was mislabeled early on. Once placed on an IEP, he felt he wasn’t given the resources to succeed. A conflict with an educator sent him into a downward spiral with no way up – he felt he had nowhere to turn, no advocate to help him. He was told it wasn’t possible for him to catch up, and, as he told legislators, the public school system closed the door on his future.
In just two months, the charter school opened that door and handed him the keys to a future he only dreamed of.
He enjoyed meeting legislators and hopes they realize that without charter schools, students feel their only option is to drop out of school.
Losing his father just months after he moved to this area immediately put Jago Griego of Alexandria in a tough situation. Instead of forming relationships and establishing himself as a student, he struggled. He didn’t want to go to school and he felt no connection to this place he was forced to attend.
In addition, becoming a father didn’t exactly cast a positive light in his direction.
When he found out about the local charter school, he knew this was his last shot.
“These were good role models focusing on me,” he said. “They made me want to be successful.”
In addition to the schedule – charter school students complete their core subjects in a half-day school day – Jago believes in its philosophy “every day is a new day.”
He knows if he struggled yesterday, he won’t be judged for it today. He feels the positive reinforcement from teachers motivates students to do better tomorrow and the day after.
He’s also become a role model. Other students speak highly of him, noting, “If Jago can do it, so can I.”
While a bit surprising, the comments fill him with pride, since he wants to set a good example for his 2-year-old son.
“I hope every kid gets the same chance that I did,” he said. “Charter school is making a difference in my life – in all our lives.”
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