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, get to know Elmira charter parent Kay Mighty-Brown.
Every so often in our work, we meet people whose stories stay with us long after we’ve met them.
Kay Mighty-Brown of Elmira, New York is one of those people. Her story is unique, but she’s also one of the tens of thousands of New York parents fighting for school choice, parents who want their kids to have a great education – parents who will stop at nothing to make that happen.
Mighty-Brown moved to the United States from Jamaica 16 years ago. Now the mother of a first grader named Justin, she wants her son to go to an excellent school, care about the world around him, and have a strong worth ethic.
And to make sure that happens there are a lot of sacrifices she has to make. Justin’s father is deployed in Germany, so she’s juggling a lot, but has the help of her parents. Before she moved to Elmira, she lived in Brooklyn where she was surrounded by awful school options.
“I was very disheartened looking for a school. I was wondering what I could do,” she said, “As a parent, you want the best for your child and feel a sense of commitment towards their education to do the best with what you have.”
After moving to the Southern Tier to be closer to her parents, she began researching the schools. At first she tried homeschooling her son, then enrolled him in a district school for kindergarten last year. But she said she wasn’t sold.
“The environment in the district school was very strict and restrictive. I didn’t see how there could be room for a child’s voice,” Mighty-Brown said.
Eventually she found Finn Academy: An Elmira Charter School – and she says the school has been the quality option for her son that she was looking for, and it has served as an inspiration for Mighty-Brown as well.
She had heard about charters when she was in NYC, and knew people who liked the option. Mighty-Brown was drawn to Finn’s expeditionary learning model. The school’s curriculum was catered to the children and school leaders have been so receptive to parent feedback. The school is full of people who want what’s best for the children.
She’s so inspired by what she sees inside the school that she volunteers at the school while at the same time juggling the demands of college. On top of raising her son and volunteering, Mighty-Brown is also attending Binghamton University, nearly an hour away from home. She hopes to become a teacher, and uses Justin’s teachers at Finn as her inspiration. There are many long nights of studying and writing, and long drives where she has to pull over to rest.
Mighty-Brown volunteers and does this work because she believes it is for the greater good. She sees the staff at Finn working so hard to make sure there is no gap between the kids who can and cannot, and she wants to be a part of that – even though she is very short on free time.
“It’s draining but I am driven. I don’t allow anything to break my spirit. My son gets to see my work ethic and that will help shape who he becomes, even though he doesn’t really understand it now.”
But Mighty-Brown says she is a parent first, and a student second. “It’s not easy to not be able to spend time with him. Do I study or do I hang out with my son? Oftentimes I’ll hang out with my son and take a B on a paper instead of an A because I don’t want my son to have memories like, ‘My mom wasn’t there.’”
With all that she is putting into Justin’s future, it’s likely he will look back someday and understand that his mother was there for him in more ways than he can count.