20 Grads: Family is Forever

20 Grads in 20 Days: June marks a huge anniversary in Connecticut. Twenty years ago this month, Governor John Rowland signed the law allowing public charter schools to exist in the state of Connecticut! To celebrate, we’re profiling 20 public charter school graduates every day for the first 20 days of June. Enjoy reading about our charter schools and the stellar kids they're educating.

Makayla Goethe has spent most of her life at Side by Side Charter School. Her parents enrolled her in their prekindergarten, so after nearly a decade at the school’s Chestnut Street campus, her teachers and peers have become a second family.

“Side by Side shaped me into a better person,” said Makayla. “The teachers and students care about you and your problems – it makes for a strong family and a strong school.”

Her teachers, especially her humanities teacher, Ms. Oddie, encouraged her to be her best self.

“She may seem harsh, but she’s tough because she knows that we can be successful in life,” Makalya said of Ms. Oddie. “She doesn’t let us slack off. She pushes us until we actually get our work done.”

As Makayla prepared to apply to high schools, those high expectations made a big difference to her and her future. “As we started doing applications and getting recommendations, the pressure our teachers put on us hit me hard,” said Makayla. “At the time I had an A to B average, but I started to get more A’s as they pushed us to do better work.”

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Makayla (left), receives an award in her research and portfolios class.

That culture of excellence paid off. Makayla was accepted to the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering (AITE), an inter-district magnet school in Stamford.

“The presentation that they made on visitor’s day got me really excited about their school. They showed us a video with students sharing their experiences at AITE, and they all said they really liked it and it changed them for the better,” said Makayla. “Then I went to their open house and orientation and it was clear it’s a really good school and the right choice for me.”

As she looks back on her time at Side by Side, there are a lot of accomplishments and experiences she remembers fondly: Visiting Broadway to see the musical Matilda, singing in the school’s choir, learning to play the clarinet, annual trips to Holiday Hill, earning second place in a robotics competition, doing homework after school at Family and Children’s Agency, and going to Nature’s Classroom.

Most recently, Makayla got an award in research and portfolio class for a paper on how religion affects views about same-sex marriage. The award was given to the student who put the most effort into getting their presentation and paper ready.

Makayla hopes to one day bring that same dedication to working as a lawyer. She likes to debate and enjoys pushing getting people to share their views and defend them in an argument. 

As she thinks about leaving Norwalk and Side by Side for AITE, Makayla believes she’s prepared for the transition in large part thanks to her parents. They raised her to be a “strong, independent person,” which will help as she commutes back and forth to Stamford. 

Still, leaving Side by Side isn’t going to be easy. Makayla is excited to “meet to people, make new friends, and branch out” next fall, but she’s used to having the same people in class with her year after year. 

Makayla says her toughest challenge through the years has been watching student and teacher members of her Side by Side family leave for new jobs and schools. Now she’s in that same position, she knows it was just as hard on them. 

“Graduating is going to be really hard. I’m leaving everyone here and though I know I’ll come back and visit, but it won’t be the same.”

Side by Side teachers, staff, and another generation of students will be excited for Makayla’s return. One you’re part of the Side by Side family, you’re in for life.

Mike is the former Deputy Communications Director for Connecticut for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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20 Grads: Family is Forever
20 Grads: Family is Forever
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