Two years ago, my husband and I made a decision that raised some eyebrows: We pulled our son, Matthew, from one of the top elementary schools in District 2 and enrolled him in a new Success Academy school.
At the time, Matthew was in kindergarten and attended the same school as his sister, Nyla, who was in second grade. Their school had a strong gifted and talented program, and there were many families on the wait list.
Nyla was happy and doing well at the school, but Matthew was not. Even though he was bright, he didn’t show enough interest or effort in school. He was more enthusiastic about playing video games than about reading. We expected more from him, but his teachers were not as strict.
The school we chose for Matthew was Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen, which had not yet opened. We applied to the school because we were familiar with the network. I had first heard of Success Academy when I watched “The Lottery,” a documentary film that explores the crisis in public education in New York City. I was fascinated by the schools — the well-rounded curriculum, the high expectations, the fun kids had learning — and had imagined my own children attending one of the schools someday. But SA Hell’s Kitchen had no track record because it was new.
Would the school live up to our expectations and spark a love of learning in Matthew?
The year SA Hell’s Kitchen opened, Matthew was in first grade. A few of his friends from his former school had also transferred there. My husband and I were now shuttling our children to separate schools. It turned out to be the best decision for our family.
Matthew, who is now in the second grade, has become a different student. His attitude toward school has changed; he is more responsible and invested in learning. He puts more effort into everything he does because he wants to do well. He is also beaming with school pride. As a result, he is doing much better academically. I used to worry that Matthew wasn’t taking learning seriously. Now he tells me he wants to be a scientist.
Ms. Coleman and the other teachers deserve a lot of the credit. They have high expectations and know how to support and motivate students to reach their goals. They host surprise dance parties and ice cream parties that make learning fun and regularly recognize and reward students who do the right thing and are making progress. Matthew was so proud when his teacher posted his photo on a classroom wall for achieving his goal of reading ten books.
I believe that all parents should be able to choose the best school for their children. Sometimes one school’s approach to learning is not the right fit for every child – even when that school has a track record of excellence. I’m grateful we found an excellent alternative that works for Matthew in SA Hell’s Kitchen.