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Date: 2015-06-01

The Myth about Charter Schools and Students with Special Needs

I am product of public schools and a parent who decided to send my four children to SPARK Academy and Newark Collegiate Academy, two KIPP New Jersey Charter Schools.

Even though Newark families have had access to charter schools for many years, there are still some people who ask the same questions - Why do we need charter schools? What makes them so special?

I want to share my experience. In a word, the schools have provided my children with hope. In fact, the experience has allowed my family to discover and now expect the very meaning of that word.

KIPP New Jersey Charter Schools are open and available to everyone in Newark. While some people may feel uncomfortable hearing this, I truly believe God led me to SPARK Academy. Like many parents, I have often prayed for my kids and asked for guidance.

My youngest son, Jared, is a smart, loving, six year old child. A bit over a year ago I noticed that he had many behaviors I did not understand and, after being tested, he was diagnosed with Autism. There was no anxiety when I received his diagnosis, instead only relief. The reason for the relief is that the diagnosis provide me with needed clarity, but most of all, I knew that SPARK Academy was available to my child.

It takes patience to help a child with special needs. A teacher must have the training, skills, understanding and love to nurture a special needs child. Most of all, a teacher needs the infrastructure and support so they can do their jobs. SPARK provides the environment needed for both our kids and our teachers.

We enrolled Jared into SPARK and they immediately started him in their summer school program. Before his first day the SPARK team was preparing for his arrival. They planned and organized various tests and the curriculum he would need. We had strategy sessions with experts. They created occupational therapy, speech therapy and social skills programs.

Jared's first week at SPARK was good, but the second week was a bit tougher for him. He came home crying every day. But Jared, with the support of a whole team dedicated to his development, stuck with it. As he now looks to finish his first year of school, I am so thankful by how he has blossomed.

His teachers and aides all truly love children and have trained experience and strategies to deal with all behaviors. As a SPARK parent, teachers go above and beyond to address my concerns. I receive proactive updates and personal support as well. On a daily basis teachers seek me out to explain situations to me, send notes home regarding homework and, most of all, make themselves available any time.

Jared is now speaking regularly. He has many friends. He loves going to school and has been greatly touched by those at SPARK and I can honestly say that the feeling is mutual. Everyone knows Jared and, even at six years old, he is a true member of the community. He used to say nothing to people and now he is giving hugs.

SPARK Academy is a symbol of how we accomplish goals and address challenges even outside of school. We support each other, we listen to each other and we are there for each other no matter what. No matter the child, they are welcome at SPARK and the school has been a needed community anchor for so many parents.

I am so grateful to SPARK Academy and Newark Collegiate Academy for all they have done for my kids. When I hear from those who have not walked in my shoes and who have never visited the actual school my children attend that charters are "selective" or do not represent the community, I wish they could meet my six year old son Jared. I would never say anything against traditional public schools, but every parent should make the best choices for their children. For my four children, attending KIPP New Jersey schools was my choice.

-Dreya Drayton
KIPP New Jersey parent

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