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‘A unique education’ at charter schools

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hundreds of charter school students, parents, teachers and activists gathered at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Friday to celebrate National School Choice Week – “the world’s largest annual celebration of opportunity in education.”

From right, Michelle Chustz, Cristina Salazar and Crystal Carbajal, from Tierra Adentro of New Mexico, an Albuquerque charter school, perform “Jota de Murcia,” a dance from Spain, on stage at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Friday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Organized by the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, the event included a variety of speakers, along with dance performances and live music from local students.

Matthew Pahl, the coalition’s executive director, touted the progress the state’s charter school sector has seen over the years.

New Mexico’s list of top 10 schools includes five charters, with the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science ranked number one.

In total, there are 97 public charter schools in New Mexico, authorized by local districts or the state Public Education Commission.

“Each one (of the charter schools) offers a unique education,” Pahl said.

Ivonne Orozco, 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, noted that school choice creates “buy in” for families.

A Spanish teacher at the Public Academy for the Performing Arts high, Orozco said she is happy to work at a charter because she can offer more individualized learning.

PAPA’s students receive intensive education in dance, music and theater, with many going on to prestigious performing arts colleges.

For Adamaris Michel, a senior at Mission Achievement and Success, attending a charter school has pushed her to attend college – something she hadn’t considered earlier in her life.

The teen’s previous traditional public schools “never felt like home,” and dyslexia made coursework a struggle.

“I hated school; I never wanted to go,” Michel said.

MAS offered a “second chance at life.”

“I am so thankful for this school of choice,” Michel said.

Omar Hernandez, a MAS senior, said it makes sense to give families the freedom to pick a school that fits their child.

“As people, we all differ in the ways we think and the ways we act,” he said. “If we don’t think the same and we don’t act the same, why should we be forced to go to a designated school?”

Launched in 2013, MAS has earned three straight A grades from PED despite serving a high percentage of low-income and minority students. It currently enrolls roughly 750 students in kindergarten through third grades, as well as middle school and high school grades.

In August 2018, MAS will open a second location.

Charter schools are booming across New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona, according to a recent article from EducationNext.

“Relatively liberal charter laws in the Four Corners states have produced a broader distribution of charter schools there relative to the nation as a whole,” the article states.

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