The voice of California’s charter school movement

My charter school saved my life

By Vanessa Alessi

I was born and raised in Compton, California with a mother on drugs, a dad in prison, 13 siblings, and a public school that was so big that teachers didn't have time to look after me. 

My family dynamics left me frustrated, angry and resentful, which I physically took out on the people closest to me.

With only a few years left until high school graduation, I was encouraged to take easy electives to meet the credit requirements for graduation because fights, straight F's, and failure were an inevitable part of my future. Inevitably, I was expelled from my traditional public school.

But as the saying goes, every dark cloud has a silver-lining.

After leaving my traditional public high school, my family sent me to a small charter public school called College Bridge Academy in Compton. I had major reservations about attending a school with only 150 students. However, during my first week at school, the principal pulled me into her office and gave me a talk that changed my life.

Here is what I learned: Don't let your past be an excuse for failure. Let it be your motivation to succeed.

My charter school saved my life. Prior to attending College Bridge Academy, no one believed in me. I finally felt like I could do anything I set my mind to, including going to college. And that is exactly what I did. I turned my 0.87 GPA into a 3.5 and received offers to not one, but five four-year universities. Rather than lower the bar, I raised the standards I set for myself. I finished my A-G requirements and applied myself to school for the first time in my life.

Beyond academics, the school's counselors and therapists helped me work through my anger and stress. Their support helped me open up about my past, overcome significant emotional barriers, and develop stronger relationships with my loved ones.

The team at College Bridge Academy prepared me to not only complete, but excel during my first year in college. I have never been more excited for my future and firm in my belief that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I wouldn't be able to say that without my charter school experience.

By La Kea Harper, student, CSU Northridge. African American alumna from College Bridge Academy in Compton.