Sports. Robotics. Theater. Debate. Activities like these are favorite ways for students to develop their skills and interests outside the classroom. As a former virtual school student, I can say that these kinds of activities are even more important for kids to participate in because of the large amount of schoolwork done online. One of the best ways to do this is through your local public school. Unfortunately, many public charter school students all over Oregon are receiving the same responses: we cannot allow charter school students to participate in our activities. This is a huge problem and disappointment for so many talented athletes, artists, and competitors.
This is a topic that I feel especially invested in, because I know how it feels to be denied access to activities due to my style of education. When I was a homeschooled middle schooler, I contacted several public schools in my area to ask if I could participate in their science fairs. Every school turned me down because I was homeschooled, and I thought it was very unfair. We pay taxes to support those schools. I learn the same material as traditionally schooled students. I am capable of following the same rules and regulations as them. Why, then, should I not be allowed to participate?
This feeling is shared by frustrated students and parents all over Oregon. We deserve the same chances that students in traditional schools have. That is why Dr. Huld, our director, created the Oregon Digital Leaders Coalition and teamed up with other Oregon virtual school representatives to create the first draft of the Senate Bill 536. This bill will allow any charter school student in Oregon to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools. “For years now we have simply reacted to whatever other people came up with,” says Dr. Huld. “This is the first bill our team put together that was of our doing. I believe virtual charter school students deserve every opportunity as their peers in traditional school methods do.”
The SB 536 was heard in the Senate Education Committee for the first time on March 7, 2017. It will still be a very long time for it to be signed into the law by the governor and there are many obstacles and hurdles along the way. “In my work in the legislature and administration I often see the dark side of education and that is adults worried about money and not children,” says Dr. Huld. Our hopes are high, however, because there are plenty of students, teachers, and parents who are willing to advocate for charter schools!
On February 13, 2017, 20 students – along with parents and teachers – took a tour of our state capitol. Learning about how Oregon’s legislation is the first step towards advocacy, and that’s exactly what these students did! They learned about the history of our state, the capitol building, and our state seal. They toured the office of our governor, Governor Kate Brown, and sat her desk. They toured the Senate Chambers and listened to a session of the House of Representatives (the representatives even gave a shout-out to our school!). Afterwards, a member of the House talked with the group and answered their questions. Dr. Huld, our director, gave a speech about the process of how a bill becomes a law and talked about the SB 536 and how he is trying to get it passed. “My favorite part of the trip was having our own personal tour guide…” says BWA staff member Jodi Coleman. “I was inspired listening to Dr. Huld speak about his work in advocating for virtual charter schools. It was also fun meeting so many wonderful and wise BWA students and families.”
On March 7, 2017, the community took it a step further. Community members from charter schools all over Oregon gathered at our state capitol to voice their feelings and opinions. They led a rally to support charter schools and afterwards talked with legislators about virtual schooling and why it’s important to them. We are very proud of our students, teachers, and parents who attended this event and played a part in our state legislation!
Even if you missed this event, there are still ways to make a difference! Find the senator and representative of your district and write them a letter explaining why they should support SB 536. You could also call them and share your thoughts and feelings. Always make sure you are polite and courteous, and thank them for their service and time!
Speaking out for what you believe is one of the most amazing parts of being an American citizen. It’s time to use that voice, whether you are 9 or 99. Virtual school students deserve just as many opportunities as their peers in traditional schools, and we need to bring attention to this often hidden aspect of education. It might seem like one letter from one student won’t make much difference, but if every student, parent, and teacher speaks up for our rights, we will witness the effects. Taking small steps in advocacy will empower our generation and bring hope to the future of American education.
Thank you to Dr. Huld and Ms. Jodi Coleman for your help on this article!