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Opinion: Newark’s Citizens Should Have High Standards for Their Kids’ Education

Charter school has been supportive of me and my family, and has instilled a sense of hope in my children

Tawayna Peeples
Tawayna Peeples and her two daughters.

I was born, raised, and educated right in the Newark school district. I attended Hawthorne Ave. Elementary School and Weequahic High School, then went straight into the Army. Currently, I am raising my own children in Newark -- it never crossed my mind that they would not attend nor be educated in a Newark district school.

A few years ago, I picked up my daughter from Pre-K when the teacher’s aide suggested that we apply to a public charter school in Newark for the upcoming kindergarten school year.

In my mind there was nothing wrong with traditional district schools in the Newark public school system and I was confronted with a real dilemma. Out of respect for the teacher’s aide, I reluctantly filled out the application, but thought there was no way my daughter would ever attend. As the summer drew to a close, that dilemma became even more real when we actually received an acceptance letter from SPARK Academy. Although I was excited, the loyal Newarker in me felt like I was betraying my city.

At the same moment that I was struggling with this choice my mother unexpectedly passed away. When KIPP New Jersey's SPARK Academy called me to confirm my daughter’s attendance I told them it was not the right time, I hadn’t even purchased anything she needed to start school, and my money was tight and I had to bury my mom.

During my moment of grief, something happened that completely changed my perspective on public charter schools. The SPARK school leader and administration offered my daughter free uniforms and school supplies. But the most profound moment was when members of the Spark Academy staff attended my mother’s funeral.

It was at this moment that I understood that I had to make the decision for my daughter’s future based on my role as her mother and not as a Newark resident.

One of my issues with public charter schools was my perception that they did not represent my community, that they were outsiders. SPARK Academy went above and beyond what my expectations were for any school, including my experience in a traditional district school.

Since that moment my expectations for a school have grown even more. When I was a Newark student, I never thought that college was an option for me and I thought that if I had children that it would not be an option for them as well.

I currently have four children in a public charter schools and another entering the upcoming school year. There is one thing I now know -- that every one of them will be going to college.

Can you imagine what kind of relief this is for a parent? My children no longer have to accept mediocrity. They are always striving to do better, to do more.

Recently, my youngest daughter and I were watching television, and she asked me “Why was Harvard such a popular school?” I told her that it was considered prestigious because a lot of famous white male politicians graduated from there and that Harvard is very expensive. My daughter looked at me and replied, “Oh. I’m going to go to Harvard.” I simply smiled and replied “OK!”

Growing up as a student in Newark, there was little support from the schools to help me achieve my goals. My choices were limited.

But now, Newark parents have the support so their children can have a future. Public charter schools are helping parents like me blaze new trails of opportunity for their kid’s future.

It is time we start new traditions in Newark. We start by opening ourselves up and having higher expectations for ourselves, our families and our schools. We should expect more from all our public schools, and the new opportunities provided to my children should become the standard.

Tawayna Peeples is a mother of four who lives in Newark.

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