Addressing a full house at NECSN’s recent legislative breakfast in Bridgeport, Capital Prep Harbor School student Jermaine Smith spoke from the heart when explaining what his school means to him, saying, “This school changed my life and my future.”
Smith was one of several charter school community members who, along with Bridgeport elected officials, met earlier this month at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle School for a legislative breakfast. It was an opportunity for the community to meet their legislators and express the positive impact charter schools have had on the Park City.
Smith wowed the audience when he revealed that he’d attended six different Bridgeport public district schools before coming to Capital Prep.
"Not a single one left me feeling motivated to learn. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t participate in class or even feel the need to," he explained. "My family wanted better for me, and that’s what led us to Capital Prep."
He said that Capital Prep Harbor was a “perfect fit” from day one, and that he went from not caring about school to feeling motivated and excited every day to get to school.
Charter school parents Melissa Baez and Jessy Toro also commended the charter schools in Bridgeport and the community environment their children get to be a part of.
“We can trust them with children’s lives, not just their education” said Baez, whose four children all attend Achievement First Bridgeport Academy. “They care about every child’s needs.”
Toro, whose son was diagnosed as having special needs, says the district school he’d attended previously never picked up on his needs. But once he started at Bridge Academy, she says the instructors immediately took notice and made sure her son received beneficial services.
“They were seeing my son and paying attention to exactly what he needed,” Toro told the audience.
But amid the school praise, speakers also acknowledged the uphill battle for funding equality and the limitations it puts on school choice. On average, Connecticut spends $4,000 less per pupil on charter school students than it does on students at district schools. This point didn’t go unnoticed by speakers.
“All students should be entitled to receive the same amount of money on their education, regardless of where they go to school,” Baez told the crowd.
Ronelle Swagerty, chief executive officer of New Beginnings Family Academy, also addressed the issue. "Bridgeport public schools, no doubt about it, are underfunded. We are not arguing that point,” she explained. “Charter schools get even less.”
Swagerty also noted the difference charter schools are making for students in Bridgeport.
“Their future is bright because of the quality education they're getting in schools that get less money than the already impoverished Bridgeport public schools,” she said, referencing the event’s student speakers.
After lending their ears to the testimonies of parents, students and school leaders, State Representative Christopher Rosario and Bridgeport Councilwoman Aidee Nieves expressed their dedication to education.
Rosario, opening up about his own challenges in enrolling his children into magnet schools, vowed he would “do anything that I can do as a legislator -- not just as a legislator, but as a parent -- to give you folks a better opportunity than I had, that other children are looking to get.”
Nieves, who is a charter school parent herself, advocated for equality across the board.
"I hope that once we get back into session, we as parents, we as leaders, we as community advocates continue to push for equal education and equal funding for our children, because that's all we have for our future,” she said. "Every school has given somebody a voice. And every voice of every child is just as important as a child in a traditional public school.”