Empowering Choices: A Mother’s Quest for Educational Freedom in Pennsylvania

“Every month should be a celebration of kids, education, and options,” says Sharon Sedlar, founder of Pennsylvania Families for Education Choice, drawing from her extensive experience as a mother navigating the complex world of educational choices for her six daughters, aged 13 to 25.

When two of her daughters started becoming ill with anxiety and migraines from attending school in person, Sharon realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education simply doesn’t work for everyone.

“My first two kids graduated from district school, but about six years ago, things began to change. My fifth daughter, a happy and bouncy third-grader, started to have abdominal migraines and dreaded going to school due to a chaotic classroom environment. Over the next two years, things improved but were never completely resolved. Then, my youngest daughter, a second grader at the time, began to have similar symptoms. Overnight, she no longer wanted to attend school because she felt very unsafe due to something that happened in the classroom.”

Sharon discovered a cyber option school through their local district, however found that that the resources weren’t enough to support her youngest daughter and was left with many questions about her daughter’s progress. When COVID hit, Sharon continued searching for options and found the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School (PALCS).

“PALCS already had the infrastructure necessary to promote effective and timely communication between administrators, parents, peers, teachers, and students. As a result, my children are happier, more challenged academically, and have been offered courses not previously possible in district schools.”

Instead of being overwhelmed by the thought of moving four daughters to virtual school during the pandemic, Sharon found comfort in knowing that she had options and already found an option that she was confident could support her and her daughters through the transition.

Sharon oversees her daughters, Bobbi and Virginia, as they attend their cyber charter classes.

“I had four kids in cyber charter at home because I knew my district wouldn’t be able to pivot into virtual learning. My third and fourth daughters graduated from their cyber charter program. It just it worked for us.”

Having education options was so pivotal for Sharon and her daughters, that when we learned about legislation in the state capital that could have adversely affected her daughters’ opportunity, the transition from PTA mom and soccer mom to parental advocate was natural.

“I sent probably 60 or 70 emails because during COVID that was how you communicated primarily with those legislators. One of them actually responded and it happened to be Senator Scott Martin who was head of the education committee at the time. About two months later, he asked me about to testify at a Pennsylvania wide series of sessions on education. After I testified, I asked him how can I continue? Because clearly we needed parent voice on this topic.”

Sharon Sedlar testifies at a the Congressional House Committee on Ways and Means in Washington D.C. on October 25, 2023.

Sharon was connected with the Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit think tank. They shared Sharon’s story and informed her that parent-organized education advocacy organization didn’t exist in Pennsylvania. So, in 2021, Sharon took it upon herself to start one.

“Ever since then, I’ve just been growing and putting out the message there that: parents aren’t alone; that there are options; and parents have rights. Many parents don’t even know what options they have and don’t even know what their rights are in terms of education. They think you have public district and you have private school that you pay for. And that’s it. A lo t of parents can’t even conceive of unbundling education because they’ve been brought up in a certain system that doesn’t necessarily promote anything outside of that system,” Sharon said.

In the Spring of 2022, Sharon’s work was recognized by and angel funder who supported her organization of the nonprofit, Pennsylvania Families for Educational Choice.

“We’re kind of a translator between all three levels. We have parents who are telling us their fears, wants and need and ideas for improving education, and we use that information to help guide them through their options. We connect with and support education entrepreneurs who are trying to serve the needs of parents, families, and schools,” Sharon said.

Sharon and her daughters Virginia and Bobbi pose with a legislator as they share the impact of educational options on their family and others.

“And then on the basis of of that information, we’re also able to speak to policymakers to our legislators and convey to them the kinds of things that we need for our parents and education professionals. And then we’re able to actually take policy and bring it back to the educational entrepreneurs and to the parents and explain it. So it’s becomes this cycle where everything feeds the other thing. We’re acutely attuned to what families need, so we’re able to translate that to the other parties involved in education.”

Due to her advocacy work, Sharon recently attended an EdChoice Parent Corps training.

Sharon participated in an activity at a Parent Corps training with Shaivon Stewart, Parent Engagement Manager.

“By the end of the Parent Corps event, I understood that I was there because we are all an important part of bridging the gap, despite race, to bring education opportunity to all children. And it was clear to me that there were a lot of similarities in people’s stories. I was raised in a single parent household. I really didn’t have much of a life in my community. Because I had to go to my grandparents’ house, I lived across the street from a better equipped, better funded township. Were it not for the church sponsoring my mom, who was working part time to support us, I would not have had the opportunity to attend a private Catholic school. Through the Parent Corps training, I realized that low-income, single parent families face a lot of the same challenges, no matter what your race. And I think a lot of the other participants realized that too.”

By the end of the two days, Sharon recounts sharing hugs with other participants and how it empowered her to continue to share her story and speak up in situations where she might have previously feel discouraged to for fear of being misunderstood.

“It was a very empowering few days with Parent Corps. I think what EdChoice is doing is really, really important in bringing us all together and making sure that everybody has a voice in the conversation, some of which are the most marginalized voices.”