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Published 01/31/2020 | Reading Time 3 min 2 sec
By BWSTimes Staff
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A small boy of Latin American heritage, wearing a Buzz Lightyear winter coat, curiously strokes a yellowish-gold and gray chicken from the Keystone Adventure School and Farm that’s located in Edmond, Oklahoma. The boy’s mother speaks to the school’s representatives about the unique opportunities Keystone Adventure offers its students.
They’re attending the Parent Power Summit just north of downtown Oklahoma City on a Thursday evening. Although it’s a school night, the boy’s mother is on a crucial mission to ensure that her young son will someday have a chance at achieving the American Dream.
Parent Power is sponsored by ChoiceMatters and National School Choice Week and is held every year in Oklahoma City. The executive director of ChoiceMatters, Robert Ruiz, remarked that “More and more parents are-realizing the innate power they have to improve education,” in hopes of increasing better academic outcomes and finding better institutional-school fits that meet the specific needs of their children.
John Duhon is a co-founder and co-director with Jenny Dunning of Keystone Adventure School and Farm, a private school that services pre-K through 5th-grade students. “We stand out amongst other schools in the city because we have a working farm. But most importantly, Keystone was founded on the principle that all children can learn,” Duhon said.
Duhon was a public school teacher for 12-years before founding Keystone and explained that he became frustrated with how standardized testing drives the curriculum and impedes some children — interested in other nonstate-tested subjects — from gaining the desire to love learning. He explained that most public schools tend to about 40% of their students’ needs as opposed to the 100% that’s required to raise healthy, confident and intelligent young people. He’s also of the opinion that standardized testing leads to many students falling behind because their teachers are hyper-focused on their students passing the state test and not on how each individual student learns best.
“It’s important that kids love what they’re doing and that they’re passionate about being at school. If you have to spend 8-hours a day in the same location doing one thing, then you should love it,” Duhon said, adding that Keystone also offers scholarships to students coming from low-income families.
Felicia Matheney, and elderly African-American woman, says she’s been sending her grandchildren to charter schools for the past 5-years. “It’s because I didn’t feel that they were getting an adequate education in the Oklahoma City School District. So I put oldest in KIPP [OKC College Prep], where I knew she would get a good education,” she explained.
Matheney said that she enrolled her other grandchild, who has special needs, in Epic Charter School — an online virtual school. She revealed how she became frustrated with Oklahoma City Public Schools because they continued promoting her granddaughter without teaching her to read. During the interview, Matheney stated that the school district’s reasoning for advancing her daughter while not adequately preparing her for the next grade level was: “We have too many students to dedicated that kind of time to one individual.”
Because of Matheney’s rising health issues, which are presumably due to being up in age, she said she’s unable to work and help the girls with their schoolwork as she used too.
Matheney said that her granddaughter is ‘blessed’ because her Epic teacher is a former special needs educator from Oklahoma City Public Schools — who is now allowed to be more flexible since moving to Epic. Matheney noted that since her daughter has been with Epic, she’s learned how to read and has regular visits with her special needs teacher.
The grandmother also noted that both of the girls’ parents are currently serving time in an Oklahoma prison, making Matheney the sole caretaker of her granddaughters.
Oklahoma is currently ranked 1st in the U.S. for incarcerated men and women. 1 in 10 Oklahoma students has a parent presently incarcerated. Notably, Oklahoma also has the highest percentage of children with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in the nation. Schools like the Little Light Christian school serve and educate children of incarcerated parents. Claire Sawyer, the school’s executive assistant, said they deal with a lot of children who have trauma-based learning problems due to one or both parents incarcerated. “We take kids from pre-K through 8th-Grade. We provide them breakfast and lunch. It’s a tuition-free school,” Sawyer says.
Studies show that parental incarceration directly impacts school-based outcomes. However, according to Susan Fowler, the school’s academic advisor, many of the students at Little Light are reading two years ahead of their traditional school-attending counterparts.
Ruiz says because of school choice and their annual Parent Power event — that provides dozens of vendors connecting parents to traditional public schools, public charters, privates and special needs schools as well as parent advocacy groups that Oklahoma — “Parents are able to make better-informed decisions about trying to produce better outcomes, or find a better [school] fit, for their children’s needs.”
School Choice is observed annually during the last week of January. This year Governor Kevin Stitt issued an official proclamation recognizing Oklahoma School Choice Week 2020.