The New York Twenty: Real Charter Champions profiles the everyday people who are the champions to their children: parents and grandparents who make the critical choice to send their kids to charter schools. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing the real stories of charter parents around New York State. Today we meet Elmira charter mom Falon Denison.
Falon Denison is the third parent we have spoken to from Finn Academy: An Elmira Charter School as part of our Real Charter Champions series. What stands out after speaking with all three Elmira parents is the excitement and joy with which they speak about their children’s school. It is clear that Finn is doing life-changing work and has a passionate community like no other – and for Denison’s son Wyatt, it is the perfect school.
There is a desperate need for quality school options in Elmira, and Denison knew right away that the district schools were not going to be the right fit for her children. Denison and her family moved to Elmira in 2014, and the district experience was not what they had hoped for as their daughter started middle school.
“Everybody was running around like chickens. It was so chaotic. There were so many cliques and problems with bullying, it was just too hard to learn,” Denison said.
Academics were also a concern in the district schools. As Denison researched the dropout and graduation rates, she knew she wanted to try something different. After enrolling her daughter in a private school, she started looking at other options for Wyatt’s kindergarten year. Wyatt was in the district’s pre-kindergarten program and he did not enjoy it. He was bored and would frequently ask if it was Friday yet.
Denison wanted a school that would keep him engaged and get him excited to learn. Finn’s program looked like it would be the answer. Learning was more hands-on, and with an extended summer program she knew Wyatt would be active and engaged all year. Finn was exactly what Denison and so many other parents were looking for, but the option almost wasn’t there.
The district fought hard to keep Finn from opening its doors, from making it difficult for the school to obtain a facility to spreading misinformation about the school. But for Denison and other parents, going back to the district was just not an option.
“The district made it very hard to get a building. But if they had to hold school in a park outside, Wyatt was going. We would do anything to get him into Finn.”
Denison said that the district just wouldn’t accept a common sentiment being expressed in the community.
“You can’t meet the needs of my child. If I can have another option for my child, it should be available. A lot of people feel like that.”
Despite many challenges, the community banded together to support the school, and Finn opened this schoolyear. And how has this new option been so far?
“This school has been absolutely amazing. If they had 7th grade my daughter would be going here next year. I hope they open up pre-school so my youngest can go too.”
The culture of the school has stood out to Denison. She describes it as “night and day” from what her daughter experienced in the district school. The students are so respectful, and that comes from the teachers and administrators who show that caring for these children is more than just a job for them.
“Every teacher knows every kid’s name. A third grade teacher knows who my son is, knows his interests. The staff really makes an effort to know everybody and build a strong community. Wyatt loves it. He’s excited to go to school now.”
Finn is open for parent input and engagement at all times, and Wyatt’s school work is engaging and challenging in ways that help him to really grow. The staff works with him and supports him, and the school is shaping lives.
“Finn is trying to create scholars – kids who think creatively, are respectful and treat everybody as a friend. They are teaching life skills that go beyond just the grade level.
“I hope other parents get to experience this.”