This week, May 8-14, we are celebrating one of the many educational choices Michigan families have during National Charter Schools Week. There are more than 1 million charter school graduates in Michigan alone. I am lucky enough to be one of them, and I now work to support these students every day.

My sophomore year of high school, I was presented with the opportunity to join Blue Water Middle College Academy’s third incoming class. Like many students, I was on the hunt for the best way to go to college for the lowest cost, and this looked like a promising opportunity. That fall, I started taking college courses in addition to my already rigorous high school schedule. This challenge was made easier by Sarah Kucemba, the Michigan College Advising Corps adviser that served in my school for two years, who provided positive feedback and encouragement along the way.

Blue Water Middle College Academy offered me more flexibility and independence than I could have ever imagined as a high school student. I was still a “normal” student who attended the school day with my peers, but the rest was completely up to me. I was able to choose a degree path and take classes based on my career interests. I also got to decide when I took them. If night classes worked better with my schedule or I wanted to take an online course, I was allowed to. Without the support of my school administrators and my Michigan College Advising Corps adviser, as well as the educational foundation established at my charter school, I’m not sure I would have attended university or finished my degree — and the data would agree. Based on analysis by MLive, charter schools have some of the top college enrollment rates across the state.

Charter schools continue to show graduation rates higher than state averages, in part due to their ability to offer the level of freedoms I experienced as a student. They also give families more options to find the best match and fit. Each school provides different approaches to how students receive schooling, whether it’s online, in a classroom, or hands-on in the field. They focus on different specialties, from arts to college prep to environmentalism to aviation. Sometimes diverging from the norm sparks fears among parents that students are not getting a proper education, but for charters, that’s not the case. The U.S. News rankings of best high schools have shown charter schools are the best performing open-enrollment high schools across the state year after year.

After graduating college, I took a role with the Michigan State University College Advising Corps, where I served in a very similar role to Sarah. My students were often overlooked because of a variety of demographics, and they didn’t live in a community with a lot of educational options — it was traditional public school or nothing. I did everything in my power to make sure these students felt the same way I did at Blue Water Middle College Academy, but it felt impossible to change the entire system one student at a time. There are many communities in Michigan without school choice options, choice deserts as they’re often called, so it’s no surprise that data shows favorability toward charter schools growing at a staggering rate.

When my service term was up, I was positive I was going to leave education, because making sure all students had access to a great education felt like fighting an uphill battle by myself. Then I found MAPSA - Michigan’s Charter School Association. This small but mighty organization was standing up for families with one goal in mind: making education great, equitable, and accessible to all. I joined this team in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic where, instead of slowing down, they had geared up to do everything they could to make sure Michigan’s more than 300 charter school campuses were supported in a time of need. The hard work of our team paid off when we began to read articles about families “flocking” to our schools as parents looked for flexible options in a rapidly shifting environment.

My love for education started very young, likely when I was first introduced to school choice as a child attending Landmark Academy, but my belief in the connection between access to a great education and success in the future only grows stronger every day. This National Charter Schools Week, I invite you to join us across the internet as we celebrate the importance of choice and the need for more options and flexibility in the current education system. We are celebrating each day with exciting new activities and inviting you to learn more about the work that we do.

Vaughn Springer is a proud charter school graduate, previous MSU College Advising Corps college adviser, and current project coordinator with MAPSA - Michigan’s Charter School Association. MAPSA strives to ensure every child has access to a quality education in a quality school by advocating for school choice, student’s rights, and a better education system.