Crown Heights

OPINION: Brooklyn parent: Charter school helped my children

July 1, 2015 By Lissette Morales For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Lissette Morales is a mother of three children in Crown Heights. Photo courtesy of Lissette Morales

Like thousands of other Brooklyn parents this month, I find myself the mother of a proud high school graduate. My daughter is on her way to a bright future in college—the path here hasn’t always been clear, and this road hasn’t been easy—but I am so thankful for the support along her journey to this day.

Ten years ago, my children were attending a district public school, but they were struggling and I wanted to do something to help. Around that time, I found out about public charter schools and Achievement First. My son Carlos was accepted for first grade at AF Crown Heights Elementary. The school didn’t yet have spots for my daughter Tatyana’s grade. 

By December that year, Carlos was reading at a third-grade level, and I was amazed at his improvement. However, Tatyana, by then a third-grader, was still reading at a first-grade level.  It felt so unfair, and it was awful to know that she wasn’t getting the same chances that he had.

But my family was really lucky that even though Tatyana wasn’t a student, Achievement First was willing to help her. The principal of AF Crown Heights Elementary led reading classes on Saturdays and even made a CD of passages and discussion questions for practice. Tatyana grew during these two years, thanks to the support from this charter school community.

Tatyana ultimately found a seat at Achievement First in fifth grade, and soon all three of my children—including my youngest, Armando– started attending AF Crown Heights.  It was amazing to hear how much their vocabulary expanded, and to see this growth in action when they had conversations with other children in our neighborhood.

Even then, I didn’t always know college was in Tatyana’s future. I certainly didn’t think it was in mine. I went to John Jay College for one year, but I left to have Tatyana and raise my family. I want for my children to graduate from college, so I realized that I had to be an example and go back and finish. I wanted to show them that hard work and a college education is the key to the life they deserve. It was a challenge—I’d have to leave work at 5:00 p.m. and start class at 6:00 p.m.—but I kept telling Tatyana that if I can do it, she can do it. Because of my children’s public charter school, I was able to plant into her head that college is the way, not just for her, but for our whole family. 

I remember one day when Tatyana told me what she’d learned about the issue of police brutality in society. She read a quote that said, ‘in order to change the system, you have to become the system’ – and so I’m proud that Tatyana will be attending John Jay College this fall to study criminal justice and pursue a career as a police officer. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with—stern, fair and a great role model for everyone.

I always believed my children could do amazing things. Everyone at Achievement First believed this too, and helped to make it a reality. After graduating from Achievement First Brooklyn High this month, Tatyana is getting ready to change the world.

 * * *

Lissette Morales is a mother of three children in Crown Heights, and has been a public school parent for 13 years.