As teachers at Seacoast Charter School in Dover, we were disappointed to learn that New Hampshire’s Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is considering saying “no, thanks” to a $46 million education grant from the federal government.
Turning down any funding for public school students doesn’t make much sense to us, but this issue strikes especially close to home because the proposed federal grant would be used to open or expand public charter schools. This money would give more students the opportunity to receive the kind of education that we provide at Seacoast Charter School.
Our school enrolls about 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. We have students with special emotional and physical needs, students who are very advanced academically, and plenty of students who march to the beat of their own drummer. We’re an arts-focused school, which means that we put an emphasis on arts education and then bring lessons from the arts into everything we do. For instance, our students might write a song to show what they’re learning in social studies or use sound waves to explain mathematical concepts.
As teachers, we have a lot of flexibility to let our students guide their own learning. We each teach both third and fourth grades in multi-age classrooms. We’re able to scale lessons up and down so that students can approach a subject at whatever level they’re comfortable with and then build from there. If our students seem like they’re ready to start a lesson earlier than we planned, we can jump right in. We let our students’ interests and abilities, not the calendar, determine when we should start a new lesson.
When it comes time to test our students’ knowledge, we have the freedom to design assessments that let students demonstrate the full range of their learning. Our students take all the required state assessments, of course, but beyond those, we focus on measuring how well students have mastered the material they’re studying, not on measuring how students handle the anxiety of test-taking.
Our school community is very close-knit. Each week, we have a whole-school meeting where students from every grade level share what they’re learning with other students in school. It’s remarkable to see how attentively the students pay attention to each other’s presentations and follow their curiosity to learn more. Students respect each other, which helps each student feel valued and supported.
You may be thinking this is all a little too good to be true. Believe me, we have our challenging moments. We’re teaching kids, after all, not angels. And our budget – like the budget of all New Hampshire charter schools – is about half of what traditional public schools can spend. Our school was only recently able to afford a photocopier and we still don’t have all the space we’d like to have. But what we do have are dedicated teachers who have the freedom to put all their skills to work helping students broaden their minds and explore their creativity.
We and our colleagues have taught in traditional public schools and at private schools, and we would never say anything negative about the way another school operates. The work we do, and the work done by teachers in every type of school across the state, is too important to pit people against each other. We believe everyone in education should support one another.
We also believe that students benefit when they have multiple public schools to choose from. Since every child is different, doesn’t it make sense that we need different types of schools to meet the needs of every student?
Our job as educators is to find ways to spark children’s love of learning and give them the best possible foundation for lifelong happiness. Our legislators’ job is to give schools the resources they need to do right by students and to give students an opportunity to find a school that feels like the right fit. That’s why we hope the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee will do the right thing and accept the money the federal government is offering to expand charter school options.
New Hampshire’s students deserve every opportunity we can give them.
(Stacy Johnson and Kelly Gordon are teachers at the Seacoast Charter School in Dover. Kelly also serves as a school board member in Nottingham and a member of the SAU 44 Joint Board.)