ASD wants to increase diversity in its charter schools. Parents say transportation is a challenge.
When Summer Thomas found out her son, Kius, got into Campbell STEM Elementary through the district lottery, she was thrilled. They had gone on tour with the school principal and watched the children participate in dinosaur-themed activities.
“I really felt like I won the lottery when I saw he walked in,” she said. “It was amazing because I really believed in the direction that Campbell STEM was going. But then the reality started to set in.”
Thomas opened Google Maps and realized that the drive would add an hour of driving to his day. Also, there was no after-school program Kaius could stay in until she picked him up after work. So they had to refuse.
“I just started to realize that I don’t think I could wake up an hour earlier and wake up my son an hour earlier and spend all that extra money on gas,” she said.
Now Kius attends primary school in Klatt. It’s in their neighborhood – Kius can even walk to school – but after-school care is always a challenge. Local nonprofit Camp Fire previously ran an afterschool program in Klatt before the pandemic, but now only offers programs at about a dozen Anchorage schools.
Starting this Friday, parents in Anchorage will learn if they have won the district lottery that allows students to enroll in a language immersion program, elective program, charter school, or a neighborhood school outside their region. Superintendent Deena Bishop said one of the school board’s goals for the next year is to make sure families from underrepresented groups know this.
“It’s really to engage and make the pool of people in the lottery bigger and more representative of the school district so that the chances of being selected in the lottery are greater,” she said during a session. work last month.
Sixty percent of students in the district identify as nonwhite, while nonwhite students make up only 37% of charter schools.
These are the data on the registered students. But the district does not know the racial makeup of the lottery pool.
This year, the district included an optional question on its lottery application page asking about applicants’ race and ethnicity. Dan Barker, director of elementary education for the district, said this will help the district understand when in the process they are losing families of color.
“At this point, many of our choice programs have been in place for over 20 years,” he said. “We literally don’t know if people are choosing themselves not to apply because they are already aware of some of the barriers that would be in place to participate in some of these programs, or if there are other reasons. for which they are not interested in applying.
Barker said it’s too early to tell what changes the district might make once the results come in later this summer. But we could simply raise awareness that the programs of choice exist.
Diane Hirshberg studies education policy at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. She said there is an “experience gap” between parents who have attended charter or optional schools themselves and those who have not.
“It’s not that these parents don’t care about education — they care very deeply about education,” she said. “But it’s just that there are expectations, like online registration for parents who may not have a computer at home, or who don’t understand what the choices are and make a informed choice when it hasn’t necessarily been something they have been. engaged in the past.
A major expectation is that parents can provide transportation themselves.
Over the years, Barker said, charter schools haven’t been required to provide transportation, lunch, after-school care or other programs that might make them more accessible to a wider range of people. families. Instead, parents and other groups seeking to create a new charter and optional programs have been told to focus on keeping a “neutral” budget, he said.
“You fast-forward this over a long period of time, and it provided a different level of access, because the system wasn’t providing the same resources to all programs,” Barker said. “I think it’s a very fitting conversation for us as a community. Where it will end, I suppose, is anyone’s guess. But everyone should be involved in the conversation, which is really what it’s all about for me.
Representatives from charter and optional programs set up tables at the district’s education center and answered questions at an informational event last month. Brandon Locke, director of world language and immersion programs for the district, said if a family can’t arrange transportation to get their child to the school of their choice, there’s likely a different program nearby that will. would also fit.
“If you take a look at our programs, they’re all over town,” Locke said. “So really, there’s something for everyone, even outside of the traditional neighborhood school.”
Fadwa Edais did just that. She is bilingual — she speaks Arabic and English — and she wanted her children to have the opportunity to speak multiple languages as well.
“My family lives in Los Angeles, my husband’s family lives in Texas, and their two second languages are Spanish,” she said.
She looked at the district’s Spanish immersion programs and found Government Hill Elementary. But the family lived more than 10 miles away. At peak times, this journey can take up to 45 minutes.
“And where is the family time?” she asked. “You spend an hour and a half every day just on the road. Everything is fast, fast, fast. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Honestly, it’s not my culture and I don’t believe in it.
Also, Edais and her husband both work, so they would have to pay extra for before and after school child care. Instead, they enrolled in the Japanese immersion program at Sand Lake Elementary, their neighborhood school. She is happy with the program, but it was not her first choice.
An elective program that provides transportation is King Tech High School. Students can take the bus to their neighborhood high school and then get picked up by another bus to King Tech. Nearly 850 students attend King Tech, whether for a full or half day, and half of full-time students are economically disadvantaged, according to the school’s online profile.
On average, the district spent more than $57,000 on King Tech student travel in 2018, 2019, and 2020. In a district already facing a budget shortfall, replicating this type of transportation system for each elective program would come at a significant cost, Barker said.
For now, he hopes this year’s data will help them understand whether they need to raise awareness, address barriers like transportation and after-school programs, or both.
“Leveling this field is absolutely critical for us as a community service program,” Barker said. “Everyone in our community has a stake in our schools. It’s really obligatory, I think, from an ethical point of view for us to say that everyone had a fair chance and equal opportunity there.
For now, parents will receive their lottery results in the coming weeks and decide if the car ride is possible.
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