Parent Perspective: For the first time, my son is thriving at school

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By Deanne Hilburn

My son Austin is a sixth grader at Excel Public Charter School in Kent, Washington.

We chose Excel because we needed an option for our son that would allow him to thrive in his academic environment. Last school year, Austin was becoming increasingly frustrated and angry. He was chronically ill and full of anxiety – biting his nails until his fingers bled and daily stomach aches. At Excel, he has not had any stomach aches (except for butterflies on the first day of school). For the first time, he is truly happy at school – and thriving academically. He tells me, “Even though school is hard work, it’s fun. I never get bored and my environment is relaxing.” His eyes get huge because he is actually surprised at his own statement.

Excel has changed his life and our family dynamic – our home is full of laughter and happiness again. All this because of what Excel and its wonderful staff have done.

Austin wakes up excited to go to school, saying things like “I can’t wait for orchestra today!” and “I can’t wait to see what experiment our science teacher will do!”. When he comes home, he can’t stop talking about what he learned and how much fun he had. One evening recently, he came skipping towards me and said, “Look what I GET to read in Lit group!” My jaw dropped because never before has Austin never shown enthusiasm for reading. He talks so much about school that I don’t need to question him about his day in search of answers. The light in his eyes says it all. As a mother, sometimes his words become background noise – I see that light in his eyes and I am so moved with emotion and gratitude for what the staff at Excel has given my child and our family.

As parents, my husband and I have discovered a new Austin who is motivated by his teachers and engaged in his studies. He can concentrate, solve problems with determination, and demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning that he never did before. Pulling this opportunity out from under Austin at this point would be devastating.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to imagine that this potential he is beginning to cultivate could be lost, and we sincerely believe it would be lost without this additional public school option. We stand united with the more than 1,200 families whose children are attending public charter schools, and who want and need these public education options to remain open for our children.

Public charter schools are not for everyone, but for some families, like ours, they can be life-changing. Schools like Excel have the potential to discover, enhance and nurture the particular abilities of students who do not flourish in traditional public school environments. If the state Supreme Court does not reconsider its decision, Washington will be among just a small handful of states that do not offer public charter schools as an option for families—an option that voters approved in 2012. It’s time for lawmakers to stand up and do what’s right – even if the Court doesn’t. I urge our state’s legislators to visit Excel or another public charter school, and to see the huge difference they are already making in the lives of students like Austin.

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