Reading proved elusive for Violetta Volpe until she got to Bridge Preparatory Charter School.
Staten Island’s traditional public schools weren’t helping Violetta, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade. Desperate, her mom enrolled her at Bridge Prep, where what had previously puzzled the preteen became crystal clear within a year.
“She can read,” Violetta’s mother, Azalia Lopez Volpe, told The Post. “She can read. Like, she can read!”
Proud Big Apple mom and dads shared inspiring tales of truimph to The Post amid Gov. Kathy Hochul’s record $227 billion fiscal 2024 budget proposal that would abolish a state-imposed cap on charters in New York City, where roughly 15% of public school students are currently enrolled.
If approved, Hochul’s budget — due April 1 — would allow up to 106 more charter schools throughout the nation’s largest school system, where 275 now operate.
Critics of the publicly funded, privately run institutions, including influential teachers’ unions and left-leaning lawmakers, vehemently reject Hochul’s plan – claiming it’ll divert essential resources from traditional public schools amid dwindling enrollment.
Here’s what parents told The Post about the looming legislature showdown and how charters have transformed their kids.
More attention for learning disorders
As New York’s first public school that caters specifically to students with literacy disorders, Bridge Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island was a natural choice for Volpe’s daughter, Violetta, who has dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities.
“Their whole entire curriculum is based on Orton-Gillingham,” said Volpe, referring to the multisensory, phonics-based teaching method utilized at the school of roughly 150 students in Staten Island’s Sunnyside neighborhood.
Since starting at Bridge Prep in 2019, Violetta has “blossomed into a leader,” Volpe said, and become a staunch advocate for herself — qualities she didn’t previously possess. The 11-year-old’s literacy skills have also skyrocketed.
“She used to write north and south, for lack of a better term,” said Volpe, 55, of Staten Island’s Grasmere neighborhood. “She would write vertically only.”
Instructors at Bridge Prep, which opened in 2019, soon helped Violetta begin writing “normally,” Volpe said. “That’s incredible, especially considering the first year [at Bridge] was during the pandemic.”
Volpe said her daughter would’ve “never” received a comparable dyslexia program at city public schools, citing Bridge Prep’s low student-to-teacher ratio and individualized instruction. Mayor Adams has acknowledged New York needs a more comprehensive approach, vowing in May that all public school students would be screened for the learning disorder starting in the fall.
“The Department of Education has already had enough of a monopoly on the educational system,” Volpe said. “They are under the erroneous impression that their way is the best way. To be honest with you, a level of competition needs to exist in the free educational system.”
Saving kids who could’ve fallen through the cracks
Jennifer Ochoa said her 14-year-old son, Oliver, is thriving at Central Queens Academy Charter School in Elmhurst following years of difficulty with district instructors.
“CQA, like most charter schools, has smaller student-to-teacher ratios,” she said. “This allows for the educators and additional staff to address the needs of all students, and have one-to-one relationships with them and parents and guardians.”
The result is a “communal endeavor” to shape malleable minds and a stark contrast to city public schools plagued by overcrowded classrooms and a lack of specialists, Ochoa, a medical assistant and lifelong New Yorker, told The Post.
“Charter schools have given opportunities to students who more than likely would’ve fallen through the cracks,” the 50-year-old Queens mom said. “During the height of the pandemic, Oliver received virtual instruction from CQA and I am thankful. Many public school students fell far behind, but Oliver and his mates thrived.”
Some 20% of CQA students go on to specialized or elite high schools, its website boasts. For Oliver, the accelerated curriculum and smaller classes have helped mold an eighth-grader who is now more confident and reading four years beyond his grade-level.
“Charter schools are communities that will work with you to help build a solid foundation and continuous growth,” Ochoa said. “Charters are a great starting point, but parents must also be active participants in the education process.”
Providing educational choice in disadvantaged neighborhoods
To Efrem Barriteau, a single father of three, Gov. Hochul’s charter expansion push to eliminate the geographic barriers of the New York state cap simply makes sense.
“If data proves that charter school students are outperforming those in public schools, it’s a no-brainer,” said Barriteau, whose 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, attends Success Academy Springfield Gardens in Queens.
In 2018-19, the last pre-COVID school year, 62% of students at city charter schools scored proficient on statewide math tests, compared to 45% at traditional schools. The gap was smaller in reading, but charter kids still bested their counterparts 57% to 47%, data shows.
“Everything is more organized in the charter school system,” said Barriteau, 45, whose family lives in St. Albans, Queens. “You get the price of a public school and the family-like environment of a private school.”
Without more charter schools in New York City, students in low-income neighborhoods will be “further disadvantaged,” the retiree said. “The more options, the better. Please don’t deny a child’s chance for a higher level of education.”
Teaching kids to love learning
Merely getting kids to school in the morning can be a monumental task for some parents, but not Nykea Hughes, whose 13-year-old twins, Christopher and Michael, never need to be prodded to go to Freedom Middle School in the Bronx.
“They just want to go to school,” Hughes told The Post. “You know, most kids in junior high school, you get a little pushback. They want to go to school — and that’s important.”
The mom, who works in wealth management, praised the holistic philosophy at Freedom, which is operated by KIPP, the nation’s largest charter network with 280 schools across the country. She’s impressed that students receive financial literacy instruction and daily fine arts classes in addition to two-hour blocks of reading and math.
“They have more resources and better educational activities,” Hughes, 42, said of the charter schools her twins have attended for their entire childhood. “It’s just been great.”
Despite being twins, Christopher and Michael are “completely opposite,” Hughes said, particularly regarding academics.
“I have one that’s a book kid, straight As, doesn’t deter from that,” the Bronx-based mom continued. “And I have one that needs a push every once in a while. But both of them get a great education and the support they need.”
Hughes suggested detractors should learn more before disparaging charter schools, saying removal of the regional cap would provide more vital options for minority students: “It benefits everybody.”
Smaller class sizes mean more individualized attention
At Zeta Inwood charter school on West 187th Street in Manhattan, Denise Ramirez’s 8-year-old son, Akilles Liriano, now enjoys the kind of “one-on-one attention” he didn’t receive at his old public school. As a result, she said, he’s a happier, more communicative child.
“What really caught my attention was the different learning strategies,” Ramirez, 33, told The Post of Zeta. “It wasn’t just one way and that’s it. As we grow older, we start realizing there’s more than one way [to learn], and Zeta provides that for Akilles.”
Ramirez, a food-service manager, said she wants other New York City kids to enjoy similar success and eclectic classes. She’s also wants the regional cap lifted, claiming it would lead to more educational choices that are needed in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“They’re doing yoga in the morning, they meditate,” Ramirez said of Zeta students. “They have more extracurricular activities and it’s more of a tight-knit community. I just really enjoy the options we have as parents.”
Zeta staffers are also extremely responsive to dynamic educational needs and willing to adapt lessons to fit the needs of any student — a degree of personalization unattainable in district schools, she said.
“They actually take the time to learn more about their students,” Ramirez said. “And so they ask them what kind of extracurriculars they want. They give them the opportunity to choose and I appreciate that. And there’s a lot of communication with parents — daily communication.”
A push for the importance of college
An unwavering focus on higher learning is what sets charter schools apart from public schools, according to Mauricio Plaza, a father of two whose son is a fourth-grader at Success Academy Hudson Yards in Manhattan. “In a nutshell, [it’s] about providing the tools, skills and education needed to go to college and sending as many scholars as possible regardless of their background,” he told The Post.
Each Success Academy classroom is named after colleges the teachers attended, Plaza said, sending youngsters a clear message on their expected destination. “At early ages, [staffers] provide good reading and organizational habits, and as [students] grow, they provide them with critical thinking and analytical skills,” he said.
The senior software engineer, who lives in Murray Hill, also gave high marks to the school’s devoted faculty.
“The staff are always so dedicated, arriving hours before they open the door to prepare the classrooms, and staying hours behind to review the lessons,” Plaza concluded. “You can really feel how every kid is supported, and my kid is thriving.”