School Choice, My New American Dream

My name is Carra. I have 3 children and 2 dogs. I live in North Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, TN. I love it here. I was born in Jackson, MS, but was adopted shortly after birth and moved to Oregon with my adopted family. As a child, I begged my parents to take me back to Mississippi for a visit, but unfortunately that never happened. I decided around the age of 10 that one day I would move to Mississippi, put down roots, and make it my home.

My childhood dream of moving to Mississippi happened in the fall of 1999. I welcomed my first child in 2002, my second in 2003, and last child in the winter of 2007. My life was beautifully full. Married to a local business owner, we lived in a quaint farming community in the Mississippi Delta. My children attended a wonderful Montessori School. I shuffled them from school to gymnastics, swimming, dance class – you name it, we did it. I loved my life. I thought I had built my American dream.

But, life has a way of throwing us curve balls, doesn’t it?

Fast forward to the summer of 2008.  My marriage was over. Bam! And, just like that my life exploded into a million pieces. I scrambled to quickly move my children 60 miles north, but that meant leaving behind our beloved Montessori School. The divorce meant no more school choice for my kids, or so I thought. I told myself it would be okay. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t okay for my son.

2008 was a tough year for my little family. But, it was the most difficult for my boy. The family change was tough for my little guy, but the school change was almost more daunting. From the age of 2 to 5 years old he attended the same school, housed in the cute little red farmhouse, with the same children, and the same head teacher, Sister Deana. He loved the child-led exploration at the Montessori School. He didn’t like being told what, when, and how to explore at his new neighborhood school. As his mom, it was extremely frustrating to watch. I met with his teachers and with the principal.

As kindergarten rolled into 1st grade, and 1st into 2nd, my son’s grades sank. His enthusiasm for learning disappeared. I cried. I poked around online and explored private school options.  I could not find a school that I could afford.  I was frustrated. I was embarrassed. Have you ever wanted something so badly for your children? Have you called a school and begged them to give your child a chance? Have you ever begged a private school financial aid office for money? I have. I explained that my children had gone to a Montessori School, and that I had recently gone through a difficult divorce. I needed help. We needed help.

The 2010-11 school year brought our miracle. Did you know you have to be faced with a problem in order to receive a miracle? My son’s 2nd grade teacher wrote me a little note at the end of the school year. I kept the note.  This is what it said:

Dear Ms. Powell,

Nicholas made a full year of growth in all subjects this year. However, his scores fell slightly below grade level, and if his study skills, motivation, and listening do not improve, I feel that his academic level will fall. Please encourage him to read this summer. It has been a pleasure getting to know Nicholas.

Sincerely,

Dr. Wheat.

I cried. My beautiful son continued to lag behind. Year after year he sank a little bit more. He was trapped in a school that wasn’t the best fit for him. If I didn’t make a change quickly I feared the worst. I was all too familiar with the statics for Brown and Black folks like my son and me.

  • Only 19% of Black 4th grade students scored proficient or above proficient in math/ reading (NAEP 2015).
  • Only 13% of Black 8th grade students scored proficient or above proficient in math/ reading (NAEP 2015).
  • The national graduation rate for Blacks is 69%.
  • Roughly 40% of the prison population is Black and 93.2% are male.

A dear friend quietly suggested the Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis, TN for my children. The next day I went to visit. The environment was warm, friendly and caring. I cried.  Not because I was sad, but because I knew this was our miracle. My children were given a generous scholarship through donations made by private donors who are committed to making sure all children in the Memphis and surrounding areas have a real chance to succeed. I didn’t have to beg for help. It was given freely.

From that day forward, every morning I loaded my children into our minivan and made the long drive from North Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee in pursuit of school choice.  The Jubilee Scholarship provided a high-quality school choice option for my family. It allowed my son to attend a school with small class sizes, a warm and caring atmosphere, and the individualized attention he needed to finally reach grade level in all subject areas.  School choice gave my son a real shot at one day achieving his own American dream.