Reimagining Education

Crystal Washington

When I was in the 1st grade, my family moved to Maryland Heights into a housing project. I began school in the Pattonville School District where I received an excellent primary education. We moved when I was in the 6th grade and I attended the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), Normandy and Ferguson-Florissant School Districts from 6th through 9th grade. Out of all the districts I attended, SLPS and Normandy were the worst. In the 10th grade I transferred back to Pattonville. I immediately noticed the difference in the instruction given by teachers. I noticed this as a child over 20 years ago. Even though I was getting a much better education I had learned behaviors at the other schools and I got suspended for 90 days for fighting and ended up a teenage mother.

Through all the hardships, that excellent primary education that I received help pull me through. After being in the streets, selling drugs and clubbing, I decided I wanted to go a different route. Many of my family and friends never even believed they could attend college. They were academically nowhere near ready for college and didn’t even see it as an option. I began taking courses at a community college and eventually transferred to SLU. I gave up the streets completely and became a full-time student and graduated.


After receiving my Bachelors in Management Information Systems at SLU, I became a permanent substitute at Beaumont High School in SLPS. I was thrown into a culture of oppression and didn’t know how to handle it. I immediately fell back into the coping skills I had learned from my family and the streets. I began lying and cheating just to get by. At first I didn’t believe in the students because I was told everyday by other staff members that the generation was hopeless. A lot of us called our jobs “free money” because we didn’t have to work for it.


This all changed once I took my first teaching class at St. Louis Community College and read Dr. Wongs, First Days of School. I started believing in the students and myself. I began using all the classroom management and learning theories and it worked like a charm. However, staff and leaders began getting upset because I was proving them wrong. They had told me I was wasting my and their time. I remember thinking that the job felt like I was a slave because there was absolutely no freedom compared to what I experienced as a student in Pattonville.


For over a decade I have worked in various charter schools and although I have seen a range of quality of education they provide, I understand the importance of charter schools in our education system. I am happy that students have a choice. After becoming a teacher and seeing first hand the differences in environment and student achievement, I am convinced that attending a school district such as Pattonville saved my life. I very much want others who come from similar demographics and social economic status, as me, to have the same opportunity.


Please make available all options to all children with keeping in mind that many of the parents do not have the ability to find this information on their own. We need affirmative action with school choice right now.

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