Why We Chose a Charter School (and why you might want to, too)

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August and back-to-school are fast approaching. Though registration for school started in February/March, it’s not necessarily too late to reconsider your choice for school options, especially if you’ve discovered that your child’s assigned public school is (how do we put this nicely) not the greatest. Private schools, homeschooling, charter schools, and school of choice within a public school district can all be good alternatives for your child’s education.

classroom
Which classroom will suit your child best?

Last year, with the kindergarten year approaching for my daughter London, we realized the school she was zoned for was ranked pretty poorly on the GreatSchools.org website. Our option for school of choice within the district had passed, so we searched for an alternative and settled on the charter school East Point Academy, which has campuses in Cayce and West Columbia.

What is a Charter School?

Charter schools are FREE public schools that branch off from the traditional curriculum within the district to form a school that may focus on special criteria (such as Mandarin immersion or creating a micro-society) while staying within the state’s educational guidelines. Just like their traditional counterparts, these schools are still subject to state testing and scoring.

Charter schools join the state’s public charter school district, rather than the district where their building is located. Currently there are 24 schools in South Carolina’s charter school district. The district includes virtual and brick-and mortar-schools, covering grades K-12.

Factors to Consider in Your Decision

You should know that charter schools do not provide transportation, so that is one thing to keep in mind when making your choice. A few other things to consider are specific curriculum, test scores and the school’s annual report from the previous year. Remember, just because it’s a charter school doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any academically better than a traditional public school. It’s your job as the parent to do as much investigating as possible into the school you choose for you child.

Other Charter Schools Available

Two other charter schools in the Midlands are:

And there are several virtual charter schools that serve the entire state:

Our Experience

london
London receiving a certificate from East Point’s principal during the Bridge ceremony.

While I can’t speak to the experience you will have at all charter schools, I can, however, speak about our experience with East Point Academy.

East Point Academy is South Carolina’s first Chinese immersion elementary school, and it’s supported by USC’s Confucius Institute. Currently, the school has 400 students in 3K-4th grade; it will continue to add another grade each year up until 8th grade.

One of the biggest reasons we choose East Point, aside from the glowing reviews and excellent school rating, was that our daughter would be learning Mandarin through the school’s immersion program. And this wouldn’t be happening in middle school or high school, when it’s harder to retain language, but beginning in kindergarten (3K if you choose)!

A Typical Day

While the school of course focuses on all subjects just like any other school they also weave Mandarin into the entire day.

London had two hours of Mandarin each morning with her fluent Mandarin-speaking teachers. They speak ONLY Mandarin in the classroom with their students at all times. The children have learned to ask for paper, pencils, and even a bathroom break all in Mandarin! All of this learning is accomplished through songs, encouragement and constant repetition. London has learned numbers (and the characters for writing them), math, feelings, food, careers, and so much more in Mandarin. She is learning the fundamentals of the language; these will develop more as she goes on to each grade, in the same way infants begin to learn the small but important details of a language!

The rest of London’s day is spent just like any other student’s day in elementary school … lunch, recess, P.E., language arts, science and more. The school also has a diverse choice of after-school activities such as tennis, gymnastics, guitar lessons, and origami/calligraphy club. As London has now completed her kindergarten year, I couldn’t be more pleased with how this year has gone for her, and we are looking forward to 1st grade.

Until next time, Zàijiàn! (Bye!)

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Stephanie never pictured herself as a mother to multiple kids, but now that she’s “that mom” she couldn’t feel more blessed! Her stay-at-home mom days aren’t always easy, but she believes parenting gives us the opportunity to heal, change, and grow more spiritually aware. She loves reading, writing, and discussing topics related to soul searching and how to get past our own personal struggles, as well as the History channel….you know, the fast life! Stephanie is the mother to three active children, ages 6, 4 and 1, and has been married to her husband Travis for 6 years. She enjoys all the city has to offer for mommy’s and children, including group play dates, playgrounds, and lately the gym, where she can get fit and the kids have an opportunity to play (a win-win!). Having lived in Columbia for the past 19 years, she considers herself a native at this point.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I tried to register Owen for east point because I thought there may be a chance of us moving closer to that area. We are on the waiting list. Wish I would have thought to do it in the bego nong of the year.

    • Last year we were also on the waiting list…feeling a little bit in limbo as to what would happen…but we got in late July! So you just never know! Keep your fingers crossed and even check back during the year because openings may become available midway.

  2. Hope, Meadow Glen is a great school with a federal rating of 96.6. East Point’s federal rating is 97.1. This shows that East Point actually has the superior PASS scores. Though not a huge difference, it is the facts.

  3. But what about 1/2 of the 3rd grade classes having PASS scores which were below not only state standards, but their district standards as well? Keeping in mind that it is the charter district with multiple virtual schools, not something like Lexington 1.

    • I think one thing to keep in mind is the amount of children being tested and also the individual schools scores. Most charter schools have just a few hundred students being tested compared to numbers closer to 1000 being tested in other school districts. A few children who are lacking can really affect the scores outcome (percentage) when you don’t have as many children taking the test compared to other schools. I like to look at my own child’s score for her particular school rather than a district as a whole. It’s similar to how one or two lower scoring schools can bring a whole districts score down.

      My daughter goes to East Point Academy (EPA) and their scores compared to the district she is zoned for (and specifically the school she is zoned for) are drastically different. East Point compared to the state does better in some areas and poorer in other areas but again I keep the number of children being tested in mind. At EPA there are only about 40 children being tested.

      Here’s a quick breakdown in the category of “not met” meaning the percentage of students who didn’t meet the standard:

      (State) Writing 21.9% vs (EPA) 12.2%
      (State) English Language Arts 21.1% vs (EPA) 16.3%
      (State) Mathematics 28.4% vs (EPA) 23.3%
      (State) Science 36.5% vs (EPA) 38.1%
      (State) Social Studies 22.8% vs (EPA) 40.9%

      I personally feel its energy well spent to investigate our school of choice for our child, rather than focus on an entire district.

      Hope that helps and thanks for reading!

  4. Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to answer, and much luck to your daughter at EPA. Please do not take this following comment personally as I only mean it for general education for Sarah’s original question.
    I do understand what you mean by a lower amount in student population leading to a higher standard deviation and less reliable results. However, MGES is equivalent to EPA in its demographics of test-takers; therefore it is a valid comparison. I present school-level test results, leaving out the districts’ results.
    Also, I would hesitate to compare my school’s results only to the state’s average. If you read the Free Times, you will notice its cover story is on the “Corridor of Shame”, infamous from its documentary and President Obama’s visit in his 2008 campaign. The SC courts just stated these schools are not meeting minimum standards in education. If you watch the documentary, these are 8th graders that literally have trouble spelling their own names and think Savannah is the biggest city in the world. My hearts go out to these students, but I do not feel this is an appropriate sample in which I wish to compare my girls’ education. Sadly, this is a large chunk from which SC testing data comes.
    Please let me also point out that EPA’s Science and Social Studies scores do not even meet state standards, even in light of putting it in perspective of the whole state.
    This being said, for comparison purposes, we will hold SC standards as baselines and do an item-by-item comparison between the two schools. I will make it like yours for consistency.
    Here’s a quick breakdown in the category of “not met” meaning the percentage of students who did not meet the standard:

    (State) Writing 21.9% vs. (MGES) 11.3%
    (State) ELA 21.1% vs. (MGES) 8.5%
    (State) Math 28.4% vs. (MGES) 9.6%
    (State) Science 36.5% vs. (MGES) 18.7%
    (State) Social Studies 22.8% vs. (MGES) 9.9%

    You will note that MGES did out-perform the state, in a statistically meaningful manner, for all five PASS subjects tested.

    In addition, MGES out-performed EPA in all five subjects, using your criteria “not met”.
    Difference between EPA and MGES:

    Writing: 0.9% (Admittedly, not much difference here).
    ELA: 7.8% (EPA was almost double-fail of MGES here)
    Math: 13.7% (More than double)
    Science: 19.4% (Again, more than double)
    Social Studies: 31% (Almost 4x as high!)

    Again, Stephanie, I appreciate your time and thought in this article. Please excuse any perceived rudeness in this comment: Truly, it’s not my intent. Have a great weekend.

    • I appreciate your time and thought as well. No perceived rudeness at all!
      And I do agree Meadow Glen’s scores are OUTSTANDING! If we were in the district I would be very proud to send my child to school there!

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