Education is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Different children have different learning abilities, different skill sets, and different needs. Fortunately, San Antonio is now home to more than 170 schools of choice. While that is good news, it does present a challenge to families who are trying to determine the right one for their children. Inga Cotton, the founder of San Antonio Charter Moms (SACM), explains that to best appreciate the options, it is important to understand each school’s learning model. STEM, dual language, single-sex, and classical education are just a few of the many options that are available to families seeking alternative educational options for their children.
Cotton, a mother of two, designed San Antonio Charter Moms to be a one-stop-shop for all the information surrounding schools of choice after trying to find a preschool for her autistic son in 2011. Today, this flourishing nonprofit 501(c)(3) is one of the most widely acknowledged sources for fair and accurate educational information. It has grown from a blog to include multiple platforms ranging from social media to digital applications and online discussion groups. Additionally, it has expanded to include educational and entertaining events like School Discovery Days throughout the year.
Through her work, Cotton has emerged as a thought leader and is a frequent speaker, author, panelist, and media contributor on the topics of education advocacy and schools of choice. Her experience as both researcher and parent has given Cotton a unique perspective and first-hand experience that makes her relatable to families from all over the city and helps them make informed decisions. Here, she breaks down the top eight learning models for schools of choice to help you make the most informed decision and find the right fit for your child.
An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM schools teach pre-K through high school students advanced concepts through fun, exciting, project-based learning. The challenging curriculum gives students the skill sets they need and then teaches them how to apply them through engaging, age-appropriate projects like robotics, video-game coding, and science fairs. Through these hands-on engineering opportunities and abstract computer science programs, students are set up for success not only in college but also in life.
“Data indicates that the high-paying jobs of the future are in the STEM fields, and there are currently not enough graduates to fill them, especially in San Antonio,” says Cotton.
But even if a child doesn’t aspire to be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, there is still much to be gained from the STEM curriculum. Most notably, creative problem-solving and teamwork. These skills are essential in both the STEM program and any workplace environment.
College and Career Readiness Models
Earning college credits while still in high school is a big plus for many students, especially those who may face barriers to enrolling in college. Through these programs, students graduate from high school with approximately two years’ worth of community college credits. They can either take an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year college and graduate early with less expense.
“These programs are a huge time and money saver,” explains Cotton, adding that they often cater to first-generation college students. “Plus, they look great on a college application because it shows that the student can do the college-level work.”
Similar to the early college models, a broader set of schools offer dual credit classes. These classes earn the student college credits, but they do not add up to an entire associate’s degree. However, Cotton says, they do provide kids with a head start.
Culturally Responsive Schools
San Antonio is one of the most rapidly growing cities in America and one of the most economically segregated. It is a community where at least 64 percent of the population identifies as Latino and six percent as Black or African American, yet data indicates that many schools are still overwhelmingly failing students of color. Culturally responsive schools work to change that by creating learning environments made up primarily of students and teachers of color. Students not only learn about their heritage but they are also made to feel proud of it rather than singled out for it by allowing students of color to see themselves reflected in their school leadership. Like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), these schools foster a sense of family and belonging while reminding students of color that they can use their experiences to become leaders, hold positions of power, and affect social change.
“These schools allow students to learn without the additional challenges of feeling like the minority or being singled out to speak for their race or culture,” says Cotton. “They aren’t the unicorn in the classroom.”
Single Sex Education
Studies have repeatedly shown that boys and girls learn differently. A single-sex educational environment allows teachers to cater to their respective learning styles, thereby boosting the self-esteem of both sexes. Historically, boys have proven to be more vocal in the classroom, often causing the girls to feel less confident about speaking up or assuming leadership roles. Girls, however, often have the advantage when it comes to behavior as they are inclined to sit still and listen longer than boys, who prefer more action-based learning and may cause more interruptions in the classroom. In middle and high school, there is the additional problem of sexual dynamics, which can be a big distraction to the learning process.
“Some students simply learn better with peers of the same gender,” explains Cotton. “Single-sex schools build their entire culture around that idea.”
Functional Needs Schools
As the name suggests, special needs schools serve children who learn differently due to things like dyslexia, autism, hearing impairment, and other challenges. Designed to meet these children where they are, these schools incorporate a curriculum specifically designed to accommodate the needs of differently abled children and help them to feel confident and successful in the classroom. Led by teams of experts who specialize in these and other conditions, students are supported, nurtured, and celebrated for what they can do, not what they cannot.
“Students are given highly personalized, individual attention in these environments,” describes Cotton. “Most have specialists on staff to assist with specific learning issues and to help educators navigate each child’s specific challenges.”
As with any school of choice, knowing when and how the enrollment process works is the key to getting your child into the right school for his or her specific needs. San Antonio Charter Moms has done all the leg work for you. Considered the leading authority for assisting local families in their school search, the nonprofit is designed to help parents and caregivers make informed decisions by providing easy access to extensive school resources such as Facebook discussion groups with over 11K members, online articles, live videos, enrollment guides, podcasts, a school finder app and perhaps the most anticipated and impactful of all, their in-person School Discovery Day Series held annually during enrollment season. The series is the largest of its kind in San Antonio, a school fair event series focused on charter and choice schools in the area. The series kicks off this October and runs through March of 2024. The events are free and open to the public and a huge asset to families trying to make sense of the myriad of great school options in San Antonio.
“We are here to make finding the right school for your child as easy as possible,” assures Cotton. “We have a wealth of resources at your fingertips.”
For more information visit www.sachartermoms.com.