Author Archive | Donna Winchester

From shy to self-confident, with a charter school’s help

A private school seemed out of reach for Dana Roberts and her son, DJ. But a charter school was accessible to them.

JACKSONVILLE – Dana Roberts had high hopes for her 5-year-old son, DJ, as she readied him for his first day of pre-school.

Remembering her own pleasant school experience, she expected her bright, inquisitive little boy soon would be challenged by caring educators who would coax away his shyness and address his difficulty sounding out letters and grasping a pencil.

She trusted that once he settled among children his age, he would begin to forget the taunts and bullying he suffered from teenagers at the family’s apartment complex.

Instead, she found DJ’s teacher overwhelmed and too busy with other students to pay attention to him. The teacher told her DJ’s never-ending questions – Why do fuses blow? Why do eggs change color when they’re cooked? – were a distraction to his classmates.

Based on the scant morsels DJ shared with her at the end of each long day, she worried he was withdrawing further into his shell.

Then the principal suggested she send DJ to a private school where he could receive more individual attention. Dana was crushed.

“When I was in school, teachers worked hard to make a difference in the lives of children, preparing them for their future,” she said. “That’s what I wanted for DJ.” Continue Reading →

‘Nerd central’ charter school propels student to MIT

Colin Chaney found a school where it’s cool to be a nerd.

ORLANDO – The invitation to visit central Florida’s newest charter school landed in Dawn and John Chaney’s mailbox at exactly the right moment.

It was the spring of 2010, and they were wrestling with a tough decision: where to send their only child for middle school.

A long-time teacher with Orange County Public Schools, Dawn knew first-hand the transition from elementary to middle school could be overwhelming, especially for a kid like Colin – a perfectionist who had always preferred the company of adults over children, an individualist who shunned the latest fashion trends, and a self-sufficient creature who insisted as a second-grader on doing his homework all by himself.

Unsure that their zoned public school was the right fit but worried about the expense of private school, Dawn and John toured Orlando Science School, then in its second year as a tuition-free public charter school.

They were impressed with the school’s state-of-the-art science and language labs and the abundance of extracurricular activities that included LEGO League, Science Olympiad and two robotics teams. They loved the school’s mission: to provide opportunities and resources for children to reach their potential in all subjects, with a special emphasis on STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Continue Reading →

Charter school offers refuge from bullies, remedies for struggles

A charter school helped Michael and Jonathan Palmertree find refuge from bullying.

JACKSONVILLE – The rock seemed to come out of nowhere, startling the boys walking home from school in the calm of an October afternoon. It hurtled inches from Michael Palmertree’s shoulder, hitting his friend, who fell unconscious with a wound to his head.

Michael checked to make sure his younger brother, Johnathan, was unharmed. Then he reached for the cell phone his mom had given him for emergencies and called 911.

It didn’t occur to Michael as an ambulance arrived that the rock had been intended for him or Johnathan, but his mother knew better. Tammy Alam had been worried since the start of the 2016 school year that they had been targeted by bullies. That’s when she enrolled her boys at their district school after relocating the family from Maine.

At first, she told herself it was because they were new to the school. She encouraged them to ignore the taunts and name-calling. But as the bullying escalated – tripping and shoving in the hallways, ripped backpacks – Tammy became convinced the abuse against 11-year-old Michael, who is part white and part African-American, and 7-year-old Johnathan, who is part white and part Asian, was racially motivated.

On the afternoon of the rock throwing, Tammy realized further discussion with school personnel was useless. She considered homeschooling, but as a single mom working full time, she worried she wouldn’t have enough time. Then she remembered the school three miles from the family’s apartment, which she drove past every day. Continue Reading →

From rebellious to role model, thanks to a Florida charter school

Victor Freytas says his daughter Mia began to flourish after she enrolled at Renaissance Charter School at Hunter’s Creek.

ORLANDO – Mia Freytas navigates the hallways of Renaissance Charter School at Hunter’s Creek like a rock star, high-fiving teachers, blowing kisses to first-graders who rush up to hug her, and leaning in close to girls who grab her hands and whisper secrets.

Bobbing along the bustling corridors during class change, the bubbly 14-year-old, auburn curls bouncing, hustles so she won’t be late.

These days, it’s important to her to show up on time. Continue Reading →