Student Stories: How My School Choice Inspired Me to Teach

My name is Lennon. From kindergarten until my junior year, I have attended private, parochial schools. My elementary and middle school years were fondly lived out at St. Gregory Catholic School, and now that I’m in high school, I’m attending Brophy College Preparatory. I have many passions. Like my namesake, I play the piano. (I’ve been playing it since I was 4 years old.) And, yes, I sing.

That’s a little about me, and you’ll get to know more. But the one thing you must know?:

My education and my future career would not have been possible without educational choice.

My dad is a teacher. My mom is an accountant. And thanks to them and two Arizona student tuition organizations that provide tax-credit scholarships—Catholic Education Arizona (CEA) and the Brophy Community Foundation (BCF)—I have been able to attend schools that otherwise, because of my family’s financial obstacles, would not have been options for me.

Why My Family Chose Private Catholic Schools

At least three factors played into my parents’ decision to send me to Catholic school. To start, St. Gregory was closer to my house than the nearest public school—a mere couple hundred feet away. Second, the Diocese of Phoenix has a history of schools with top-notch, rigorous academics and vast extracurriculars. Though, proximity, academics and extracurriculars weren’t the only aspect of St. Gregory that appealed to my family.

I was baptized Catholic as a child. My dad was raised by two Catholic parents, but he hadn’t had a formal education in the faith, so I also had not. My mom isn’t Catholic or even Christian; she’s Buddhist. But ultimately, my parents agreed that they wanted to ensure I received an education that would fully coincide with my Catholic faith which I would not have received at a public school or even at home since my parents themselves didn’t know it very well.

Why I Want to Teach

I’d say I’ve been around the career wheel: First, I wanted to be a chemist. Then I wanted to be a doctor (until I realized I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and I’m pretty sure that’s one of the job requirements). Then, of course, what boy doesn’t go through the librarian phase, cataloging every book in his house by ISBN in an Excel spreadsheet in third grade?

But it is really because of CEA and BCF that I have landed on a career path that I am passionate about pursuing: education. Yes, I want to teach.

My goal as a future educator is to give each of my students the confidence to see that their goals aren’t unattainable, that the problems they want to solve aren’t unchangeable and that they truly are unstoppable when it comes to doing both. I plan to serve whatever population—low income, high-risk or other students—that can use me, my personality and my strengths the most.

I believe the quality of a student’s education should never be determined by their ZIP Code. Educational choice is vital to ensuring that students can receive a quality education. Far too many students are stuck in a cycle of unending poverty, and though schools are meant to be a means of escaping such a status, many cannot live up to that mission for every child.

Through vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts and other programs, change is happening across the United States. Students are becoming lifelong learners and lifelong leaders. Through educational choice, they are truly becoming the change that our nation so desperately needs to see. As I’ve said, my own education would not have been possible without educational choice, and I will be forever indebted to a system that makes education about the student, their needs and their future.

One day, I will join the ranks of teachers out there who support educational choice.

The Challenge I See

Amidst all the negativity I hear about school choice from some opponents, I see another problem.

As schools, we’ve put ourselves into little boxes with labels.

“Oh, that school? That’s a charter school.”

“That school? Wow, that’s a public school.”

“Oh, that school? Yeesh, it’s a private school.”

And we stereotype each one accordingly. Not every private school kid is “spoiled;” not every public school, full of “havoc and chaos.” Not every charter school is a “cash cow.” We have to lose these labels and return to the fundamental reason schools exist: to educate, to inspire and to change.

At the end of the day, our goal as citizens is to ensure every child receives a quality, rigorous and relevant education, and we should be focused on doing whatever it takes to ensure that our students—our future teachers, future doctors, future lawyers and future leaders—have the resources at their schools—public, private and charter—that will help their individual strengths flourish.

Each school, whatever type it may be, comes with its unique programs, from public schools offering Career and Technical Education classes which aren’t offered in private schools, to charter schools offering Advanced Placement courses to students in middle school who are academically ready for them.

No one type of school is better than the other in substance; that is a fact. We do not have school choice because one type of school is better than another in substance.

We must remember that we have school choice because every student deserves a say in their education.

We have school choice because we know that what may work for one student may not work for another.

We have school choice because every student learns in a different way, at a different pace and in different styles. Not every school is meant for every child, public, private or otherwise.

Most important, we must continue to fight for school choice to ensure that each and every student is given the opportunity to enhance and develop their individual skills in a setting that will allow them to blossom.