School choice opened my eyes to a diverse and culturally enriched world

Today, I’m a junior at Howard University. But things could have turned out differently if I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a different educational path when I was younger.

Thankfully, my parents were given the option to exercise school choice, which is, unfortunately, not the norm for every student in America.

My story begins in the 4th grade, when I attended my neighborhood elementary school.

There, I was intimidated. I shied away from speaking up in class. I only passed through grades because I seemed like a good student — but I didn’t really understand my lessons. Teachers did their best, but there were 50 students in our class: they often stopped lessons to discipline students, and seemed overworked and stressed.

That’s when my mother found out about KIPP — Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore, Maryland. KIPP was one of the top performing charter school programs in the state.

In just one semester, I went from reading on a second grade level to a seventh grade level. I went from struggling in school to consistently making honor roll.

She entered my name in the lottery and I got accepted.

I was excited — only to find out that, after taking my entrance test, my reading skills were on a second grade level.

I entered fifth grade determined to work hard and succeed. At KIPP, classes and school days were longer, and class sizes were smaller. I got involved and joined the lacrosse, debate, and basketball teams.

My confidence began to soar!

It didn’t take long for my grades begin to soar, too. In just one semester, I went from reading on a second grade level to a seventh grade level. I went from struggling in school to consistently making honor roll.

So, when it came time to make a decision about high school, my advisor told me that my grades and recommendation letters could get me into any high school of my choosing.

She encouraged me to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and recommended boarding school.

After visiting several private options across Baltimore, my family and I chose St. Margaret’s Girls Boarding School in Tappahannock, Virginia.

Because I excelled in the classroom, I received a scholarship that covered most of my tuition. My parents worked hard, made sacrifices, and paid the rest.

There, I was exposed to people from all over the world. My first roommate was from Ghana. It was such an eye-opening experience.

Along with my “sisters” at St. Margaret’s, I felt prepared for college. In fact, advisors told me that I had the grades to attend any university — even an Ivy League.

My life, and my story, has taught me that all students — regardless of their family’s income and zip-code — should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

Still, I often think of students — including several of my former classmates at KIPP — who didn’t have the same opportunities I had. I think about parents who can’t choose the best learning environment for their child, as my parents did. It doesn’t seem right.

Don’t they deserve better?


Kendra is a junior at Howard University majoring in political science.