School choice: The life raft for opportunity – Washington Examiner

When you ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they typically have high aspirations — maybe a doctor, lawyer, police officer, or astronaut. Their minds are filled with unlimited possibilities because they see the world as their oyster, with so much potential for what could be. But if you asked me that question as a child, I would have had one answer: alive. That’s all I knew. I grew up surrounded by poverty, crime, and low expectations. I struggled in my public school and was desperate for a way out, and I knew what was at stake if I didn’t get it.
I was bullied and would often get in trouble for being late to class because I was hiding in the bathroom to avoid the bullies. Coming from a blended home, I often dealt with problems before I even set foot in the school, including abandonment, low self-esteem, and little inspiration. I felt like a cog in the machine of mediocrity and, ultimately, disappointment.
My family tried all they could to make the education system work for me. I was in a different school almost every single year. My parents tried everything: charter schools, virtual schools, community schools, and public schools. Nothing seemed to work for me. None of those places were good for a young black kid like me who was diagnosed with ADHD. Nothing worked, and school quickly became something I despised.
One day, I found myself in the principal’s office after a couple of students ripped my favorite Spider-Man shirt. The principal told my mother, “If you give us five years,” he would be able to turn around the school (and the high school I was zoned to attend). At that point, he said, “It will be a better place for Walter.”
I’ll never forget what happened next. My mother gave him a pointed look and said, “In five years, Walter will either be in prison or in a body bag, and we certainly don’t have time for that.” She took my hand and walked me out of the school. I never went back.
A few days later, my mother received a call from the Black Alliance for Educational Options informing her that because my public school was deemed failing, I was eligible for a scholarship to attend a private school. Private school was never an option for my family. My parents worked multiple jobs just to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. There was no room for anything else.
After digging a little further, my mother found out about the EdChoice Scholarship Program, and I quickly found myself in a small private school in the heart of Columbus, Ohio, called Tree of Life Christian. The environment was completely different from anything I had ever experienced. The teachers were kind and truly cared about me. More importantly, I didn’t have to worry about being bullied and could truly focus on my academics for the first time in my young life.
My parents chose Tree of Life because of the academic rigor, as well as the values the school stood for. I was being shaped and molded both personally and academically. I felt safe and cared for. I attended Tree of Life from sixth grade through 12th grade and then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in journalism and find my place in the education reform movement.
While sharing my story throughout my life, I saw not only the power of school choice but also many families in my community that could truly benefit from education freedom. I decided to join the American Federation for Children, where I was put on the front line of this movement. Within six months, I found myself sitting next to President Donald Trump, for whom I had a special message.
I have traveled the country sharing my story while helping the next generation of students unlock their unlimited potential through education. No matter what children want to become, education must be the foundation on which those aspirations are built. Statistically, I was the exception for my community. Although my story is powerful, I truly believe there are so many more students who are desperate for a way out. Children within the education system have been held hostage for far too long, and it’s time to liberate the hearts and minds of children across the country with education freedom.
Walter Blanks Jr. is the press secretary at the American Federation for Children, a 2019 Future Leaders Fellow, and a school choice beneficiary from Ohio.


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