Charter parent spotlight: ‘Pandemic learning was an awakening’

By February 14, 2023 News

Charter parent spotlight:  Christine Stine of ALA-Johnston

‘Pandemic learning was an awakening for parents’

Stories of school change during the pandemic are legion by now, having prompted numerous news articles as well as research inquiry. Last week, for instance, a new Stanford study, published by the Urban Institute, revealed that sizable percentages of students left public schools for private and home schools. Some 240,000 former public school students are still unaccounted for, three years later.  Clearly, pandemic-era enrollment shifts have been seismic—with impacts that linger.

For Christine Stine and her family, pandemic disruption led to a breakthrough school option they had never before considered. The Stines’ schooling journey was a roundabout one, leading from private school to home school, and ultimately, to a public charter school.

“Pandemic learning was an awakening for parents,” Christine, a mother of three from Clayton, affirms. “It was a beautiful thing to be a part of that awakening and watch so many people I know realize that maybe this wasn’t the direction they wanted to go with their children.”

When the pandemic arrived, Christine was working at the private school that her daughter, Abby, attended. “Abby was in private school until fourth grade, when the world went nuts,” she says. “We decided that we weren’t going to take part in that, so we pulled her.”

The Stines decided to homeschool Abby for two years, along with their son, James. Their third child,  Eleanor, was born during this time. Even as the Stines began their homeschooling odyssey, they were presented with another option. A newly approved and nearby charter school, American Leadership Academy (ALA)-Johnston, reached out: Were the Stines interested in joining an interest list? Curious, Christine signed on.

Two years later, the school building was in place; this fall, Abby enrolled in ALA-Johnston’s 6-12 campus for 7th grade. Just before the start of school, James was admitted to first grade at ALA-Johnston’s K-5 campus.

James Stine, a 1st grader, and his sister, Abby, a 7th grader, attend American Leadership Academy-Johnston in Clayton, North Carolina. Photo credit: Christine Stine.

At ALA, a focus on patriotism, citizenship, and independent thinking

What drew the Stines away from homeschooling and toward public charter school? Christine says she loves the patriotism that pervades ALA’s campus and curriculum, as well as the school’s focus on citizenship and independent thinking. It’s an ethos, she says, of “pride in country and pride in teaching children how to be respectable, productive members of society, yet teaching them to think on their own.” Raising independent thinkers had, in fact, been a “huge draw” for her family with homeschooling, she says. ALA felt like familiar territory, and it felt right.

The Stines were also impressed with ALA’s emphasis on character education. “The ideals that ALA touts are the very same ones that my husband and I want instilled in our children,” Christine says. ALA’s core values form the acronym RAISE: Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Service, Excellence.

“What parent wouldn’t want his or her child educated under those five principles?” Christine asks. “These kids are being taught how to be themselves but in a manner that will gain them respect. That’s what my husband and I want. That was the biggest draw for us,” she says of ALA. “The teachers don’t just preach the RAISE values. They show them and they live them.”

The biggest part for me is that it is a choice’

In the end, the exigencies of the pandemic and the benefits of public school choice coalesced to prompt the Stines’ charter school awakening.  Still, “charter schools are not for everyone,” Christine acknowledges. “We all have different ideals, and we all raise our children differently.  The past couple of years were crazy but they were so needed. Parents could look at options. I would never have looked at a charter school.”

She is most passionate about the freedom she and her husband have to direct their children’s education. “The biggest part for me is that it is a choice. I am choosing to send my children here,” she says. “There’s no greater feeling as a parent than knowing you have input with your child’s education.”