Just over a year ago, we started a project that has changed the way I see the National School Choice Week community. Andrew Campanella, president of the Week, and I were discussing how we could tell deeper, more meaningful stories about the schools who celebrate educational opportunity with us each January. He came up with an idea: a weekly series that would highlight schools and learning environments making a positive difference in their communities.
The first challenge was deciding how we would choose who we would highlight from among the tens of thousands of schools we work with every year. So, we decided to track local news coverage about thousands of our school partners who have shared event details or photos with us in the past, confident that they were happy to be in the spotlight.
It’s been one of our team’s greatest joys in the last year to uncover the amazing work that these leaders and their schools do in the lives of their students and their communities.
We’ve seen the smiles that a therapy dog puts on the faces of students with intellectual disabilities.
We’ve learned how a class of sixth-graders can connect with first-generation immigrants and welcome them more fully into their community.
We’ve wondered that middle schoolers want to come to school on Saturday, just to keep working on their reading skills.
We’ve applauded virtual school’s students astounding level of commitment to in-person service projects.
We’ve heard how one mother’s decision to homeschool her son opened up a new educational option to other families.
We’ve uncovered how the themes of magnet schools unlock interest and motivation in all subjects for their students at America’s highest-ranked public high school.
And we’re not done yet. Last year, 21,255 schools celebrated National School Choice Week. At the rate of this series, it would take us more than 400 years to feature them all!
As we head back to school, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ripple effects of the decisions and sacrifices that parents, teachers, administrators, staff, and school leaders are making every single day.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit University Prep, a public charter school in Denver, along with Andrew, Julie, and Noelle from our team. We were visiting to drop off their box of NSCW celebration supplies and tour their Steele Street campus. This education option became a part of University Prep four years ago after they were approved to restart it under new leadership. In their first year, they had the highest growth in math scores of any school in Colorado.
When talking with University Prep’s founder, David Singer, I learned he had been a math teacher for many years before deciding to do something about the dearth of hope and direction he was seeing in many of his students. He told me he couldn’t take it any more that the most common response to “What do you want to do when you graduate?” was a shrug. So, he attended some rigorous school leadership training programs and started his own solution to that problem. The school he founded now has multiple campuses and the most dynamic and impressive math education programs I’ve ever seen.
Of course, University Prep is successful not just because of its founder, but because of the dozens of employees who have bought into this mission and work hard to fulfill it. That dedication and vision to improve the lives of children is what Highlighting Happiness is all about.
If there’s one thing this series has done so far, it’s confirmed just how impactful everyday decisions by parents and educators are.
My hope is that Highlighting Happiness has confirmed that truth for anyone who reads it. I hope it inspires you to continue spreading the word about educational opportunity and making sure every child is able to receive an education that helps them become the best version of him or herself. It’s certainly done that for me.
Shelby Doyle is director of communications and external relations at National School Choice Week and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"