Some of the most insightful, helpful reading I’ve done in the last year has come from essays written by Minnesota high school students like Breanna Kissel, Zeke Jackson and Fardowso Abdi. They explain far better than I can why providing public school choice and dual-credit options — including but not limited to Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) — is among the wisest things legislators and educators have done.

This is not about philosophy. It’s about recognizing there’s no single best kind of public school setting for all students. Some blossom in a traditional district school. Others do far better in a district alternative, charter or dual-credit program, where students work simultaneously toward high school diplomas and college certificates or degrees.

First, here are sections of three essays written by Minnesota alternative school students. The Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs website has posted their writing here: http://bit.ly/2XxcZin.

Breanna Kissel wrote: “I am a senior at Ivan Sand Community High School in Elk River. I have been at Ivan Sand since my freshman year. I originally started the year at Elk River High School as a grade A student, but I was very quiet and not in sports or any social circles. I had gotten jumped in a hallway which led the way to future bullying so I was offered the opportunity to attend Ivan Sand instead. Ever since I started at Ivan Sand I have had tremendous successes.”

Fardowso Abdi of the Paladin Career and Technical High School in Blaine, recalls: “When I was in a traditional school, people only saw me for my hijab and I was subjected to harassment. Negative feelings festered inside of me and caused me great mental harm. However, I have realized my calling in life: dealing with implicit bias. During my time here at Paladin, I have changed tremendously. I used to be an angry student and I didn’t know why. Paladin gave me the time and space to understand where my anger was coming from, and having this information about myself has empowered me. I am now embracing my role as an advocate and leader among my peers. This is why alternative school programs are so important.”

Robert Johnson is from the Red Lake Indian Reservation and attends Voyageurs Expeditionary School, a chartered public school in Bemidji. He wrote: “Alternative education emphasizes small class sizes, close relationships between students, and a sense of community within the school. These are the reasons why I switched from mainstream education to alternative. Alternative education is a blessing.”

Switching now to PSEO, Aaliyah Hodge, a St. Louis Park High School graduate, explained: “I participated in the PSEO program my junior and senior year of high school at the University of Minnesota. PSEO allowed me to graduate high school with 58 college credits and graduate with my bachelor degree at 19 and my master’s from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at age 21. PSEO has opened many doors for me. … I believe that all students should have the ability to participate if they so choose.”

Zeke Jackson graduated this spring from Little Falls High School, earning about two years of college credit at the University of Minnesota. He calls the PSEO program “amazing”: “It connects students with resources and opportunities far beyond what we can access in a high school setting. During this past year, I grew from many PSEO experiences – from learning how to properly study (to) meeting people from many different cultures.”

Hodge’s and Jackson’s full essays are found here: https://peopleforpseo.org/testimonials.

As these students show, how we spend education dollars is as important as how much we spent. Providing strong options helps produce more successful students. That’s good not only for the individual students, but for every Minnesotan. — Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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