By Michele Mason (@MMasonMichele), Executive Director of the Newark Charter School Fund.

I love this time of year! I get to cheer on our young people as they embark on the next phase of their lives. From senior signing days to graduations, I recall sitting alongside proud administrators, teachers, and family members hearing amazing success stories of students overcoming considerable obstacles to not only become high school graduates, but for many of them, becoming the first in their families to go to college.

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to team up with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, along with 200 guests that included parents, teachers, city officials, and community leaders, to celebrate our best and brightest graduates who announced college selections like Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, Clark-Atlanta, and Wesleyan this fall. It was a magnificent way to kickoff graduation season and showcase the resilience of the young people in our city.

In a way, this is the story of Newark—overcoming struggle, obstacles, and setbacks to produce stunning flowers with their full brilliance on display. After all, Newark was once considered the murder capital of the country. The child poverty rate was north of 40 percent, and our schools were so bad that we ceded control of the system to the state. Today, the crime rate has fallen, the economy is improving and we have regained local control of our schools. That’s why I believe it’s fitting that our students will get to write the stories about their futures as they move toward becoming economically-independent adults by pursuing higher education after high school. You could say Newark’s story is still being written as well.

The class of 2018 is living up to the promise we made to them years ago in kindergarten and first grade that if they commit to excellence, worked hard, and got good grades, colleges will be lined up to recruit them for their academic programs.

The seniors at Great Oaks Legacy took that promise to heart. For the second year in a row, 100 percent of them were accepted into a college or university. This year alone, their 52 seniors got into more than 400 colleges and received nearly $4 million in first-year scholarship offers. An outstanding feat for such a small class.

North Star Academy’s seniors are just as impressive with 100 percent of their 119-graduating seniors accepted into 485 colleges including Princeton, Stanford, Yale and Brown, and more. Over the last five years, North Star’s four-year college placement rate ranks the highest among all high schools in the state of New Jersey.

And at KIPP Collegiate Academy, its class of 129 seniors received acceptances to colleges, military, vocational and trade schools all across the country. In fact, KIPP is one of five New Jersey high schools in the 80/80 club where 80 percent of black students go to college, and 80 percent attend 4-year schools. The students there certainly heeded the promise as well.

While we celebrate these schools for the impressive work they did to get our children college-ready, we must remember that behind the numbers is a student, who along with their parents, chose and bought into the school’s mission. Without fully embracing the school’s culture, curriculum and quite frankly, educational process, we wouldn’t have college signing days or graduations to cheer on.

Our scholars are amazing. Their futures are bright, and by extension, Newark’s future is bright as well. The promise will be fulfilled when these graduates return home with their degrees in engineering, education, music and business to invest their hard-earned skills and talents back into the city that invested in them. Then we’ll start the clock all over again.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018!


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