Olivia and Tinesha Williams:
The Impact of Early Aspirations
Early aspirations matter. With the right mix of dedication and training, such aspirations can chart a bright and attainable course for the future. That’s the story in the making for Olivia Williams, a 7th grader at RISE Southeast Raleigh Charter School. A standout scholar, trombone player, and cheerleader, Olivia was just selected as a recipient of the Victor E. Bell Jr. Scholarship, one of only 15 students in North Carolina to earn the award. She’ll receive $2,000 this year, deposited into a college savings account, and can renew that amount for up to nine years, for a maximum of $20,000.
Charter teachers and leaders served as early vision-casters for Olivia. “They gave us access to stuff that was out of our reach at that time,” Tinesha, Olivia’s mother, says. “We could dream about going to college.”
RISE is an acronym for resilience, integrity, scholarship, and excellence. The school instills these core values in students, equipping them with powerful, practical skills to succeed. Academics are rigorous. Students are scholars. College hopes? They’re conceived at the outset of education.
In fact, aspirational messages about educational attainment were embedded throughout Olivia’s early elementary experience at the school, known then as PAVE Charter. “I really liked that the school had a value system built into the curriculum,” Tinesha says. “They were forward-thinking about preparing kids to work toward higher education. Even when Olivia was in kindergarten, their classrooms were named after universities. They had self-affirming chants that they would do, and things that built students up.”
Now, it’s paying off. “It makes me feel very happy that I’m getting the help that I could possibly need in the future—to do what I want to do in life through college,” Olivia says of the scholarship.
‘Charter school was not on our radar’
Like many parents, however, Tinesha didn’t initially see charter schools as an option. “Charter school was not on our radar,” she affirms. “I thought charter schools were for the people who were able to pay for school.”
But when Olivia was in Pre-K, representatives from several charter schools came to her class, changing Tinesha’s view about what was possible. “It was eye-opening. My thought was that it was going to be [traditional] public school for us, and we didn’t have any other choice,” Tinesha says.
Since then, Olivia’s brother, Jason, age 9, has joined her at RISE. A cousin, ZaRyan, age 11, is also a RISE scholar. ZaRyan’s little sister is set to enroll next year.
Tinesha notes, “We’re pretty much a RISE family now!”
Strong communication builds security; school ethos shapes mindsets
Excellent communication with teachers and school leaders built Tinesha’s confidence in RISE. “I have access to everybody at that school. It makes me feel secure. For me to be able to use the TalkingPoints app with them and have them communicate back at their leisure—it’s important to me.”
The school’s approach to learning has also shaped mindsets for the Williams family. “RISE is helping our kids realize that education does not stop at high school. It goes way beyond,” Tinesha says. This mindset of learning as a lifelong pursuit has carried over to Tinesha’s career. “I try to learn something new every day. I’ve gone back to school to learn new courses for work,” she affirms.
Ultimately, her family’s charter experience has underscored Tinesha’s belief in the value of educational options. “More kids would fall through the cracks if we didn’t have charter schools,” she says. “It’s important to have choices when it comes to educating our kids because not everyone can learn the same way.”