Some gifts come in wrapped boxes tied up with frilly ribbons or bows. But one of the greatest gifts I ever received didn’t come in any fancy packaging — it came wrapped in a scholarship. The gift inside was school choice, and it changed my life. It helped me not only to grow as a student but to discover my voice and my passion for giving back in the workforce.
Six years ago, North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program gave me and my family the chance to consider all our school options and select the school that best met my needs. Opportunity Scholarships provide up to $4,200 in tuition assistance for lower-income, working-class families in North Carolina to send their kids to the school of their choice. My own scholarship enabled my family to send me to North Raleigh Christian Academy.
My school’s rigorous academic curriculum empowered me to learn at my own pace. Maybe you won’t hear this from every student, but I hate easy classes. While my prior school didn’t challenge me, I have relished the opportunity school choice gave me to take tough classes at my new school.
Outside the classroom, my school of choice has paved the way for me to explore a wide array of extracurricular activities — from theater and track to community service. These opportunities come because the teachers and administrators at my new school encourage students to go beyond the minimum and give us the tools we need to succeed. For instance, my principal has gladly helped me host charity drives at my school to distribute clothing to needy families in Wake County.
But here is what has most profoundly changed my life: North Raleigh Christian Academy’s youth and government program. Through it, I discovered my love of politics, public policy, and the legislative process.
The youth and government program has exposed me to mentors and leaders in the North Carolina Legislature. It helped me conquer my fear of public speaking, such that I can now give extemporaneous speeches with ease. It has shifted my future career path and the way I view the community around me. And all this progress came about in large part thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Program — because the high school I would have attended does not offer youth and government.
The youth and government program has taught me many things about how government works and how bills become law. But behind every bill and every law lies a story, a face, and a future. I know — because I consider myself one of the faces of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.
An Opportunity Scholarship quite literally helped me to find my calling in life — and my voice. And in gratitude for the gift I have received, I want to give back by using that voice to ensure that other students like me can receive a similar gift. My peers might not want to go to a Christian academy, or might not have an interest in a program like youth and government. But each of them should have the chance to select the school and program that they and their parents believe will work best for them.
From Jan. 24 through 30, National School Choice Week celebrates the broad movement that has brought school choice to millions of American students just like me. We stand as living proof of what improved and personalized choice in education can do for families across our country.
Having received the gift of my school choice education, I will work my hardest — now, in college, and beyond — to ensure the next generation of students has the same access to school choice. School choice gave me the gift of a better future, and that’s a gift worth sharing far and wide.