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Krystal Barnett knew the educational system was broken when she was in 11th grade. That was when she had to watch her mom get attacked by a room full of educators telling her mom that Krystal had no future.
When Krystal became a mother herself, she knew that she needed to find a better path for her son.
Luckily, City Academy had just opened in her North St. Louis neighborhood and her son was one of 100 lucky applicants to get a full scholarship to attend.
But Krystal has always worried about the other families who applied and did not win a scholarship.
“What I thought about was some of the heartbreak that I saw from some of those other families and the despair in their eyes that they did not have the option to put their kids in quality schools,” said Krystal. “That is the reason why I fight for all kids to have those opportunities. I know that schools are not serving children well and when parents have a choice, then you get to decide where to put your child and you give them a better advantage.”
Krystal’s fight led her to found Bridge2Hope, a new non-profit focused on helping parents in the St. Louis region fight for better educational options for their children.
Krystal has been helped in her fight by Carmen Ward, Bridge2Hope’s Director of Operations, who has been advocating for her son and other Missouri children for years.
Carmen’s battle started when her son was diagnosed with autism.
“I didn’t know anything and no one was gonna help me learn anything,” she remembers. “I realized that anything that my son was gonna get it was going to be a war to have it for him.”
Carmen forced the system to provide caseworkers for her son, found a charter school that understood his needs and worked with her to solve them, and then started working to make it easier for other parents who might be facing the same issues.
“I ultimately ran into the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri that just took my advocacy to a whole other level of understanding,” said Carmen. “I started taking my fight to Jefferson City. I was given an opportunity to be a part of real change and to tell people my story.”
Then Carmen joined Krystal in forming Bridge2Hope.
“Everything shifted,” said Carmen. “I realized that there were other parents and they were on fire for this thing.”
Carmen and Krystal, along with Bridge2Hope’s Lead Hope Builder Makayla Gray, are working to mobilize parents (and future parents) to demand better options for their kids.
“You cannot change the face of education until parents understand that we hold the purse strings,” said Carmen. “We make the decisions.”
“We believe that no parent should be sitting back allowing educational systems and our administrators and teachers to make decisions for their child’s educational track without talking to them or considering them,” agreed Krystal. “You can get in this fight with us and start speaking out, sharing the word, talking to other parents, and getting them involved.”
Carmen noted that making a real change would require policy changes in Jefferson City.
“We can shift the tide at the top of the system,” she said. “We are for parents, so when they get involved they are activating themselves to say: ‘I want change. I want change in public schools. I want change in private schools. I want change in virtual schools. I want change in charter schools.’
“We can demand that change not just from Democrats, not just from Republicans, not just from one specific school but the system as a whole,” she added. “Who doesn’t want academically excellent, equitable schools? That’s all we’re asking for.”
Krystal and Carmen both know that getting involved in advocacy can be hard and requires a commitment, which is why they are open to meeting parents anywhere they need to.
Bridge2Hope is on multiple social media platforms and they share their phone numbers for any parents who would like to reach out.
“We believe in the people we serve and we believe it is time for all of us to come together and demand something better for education.,” said Krystal.
“I am willing to go through whatever,” added Carmen, “Bridge2Hope is willing to go through whatever with anybody because we are better together. We are a small legion right now but we are going to grow into a mighty legion.”