My son, Jalon, always excelled academically. He had been receiving straight A’s for as long as I could remember. Despite the good grades, something changed when he entered the ninth grade. All of a sudden, he lost his passion for school. He appeared to be learning the same things as previous years and was not being challenged in the classroom. I was also worried about the lack of emphasis by teachers and administrators on post-secondary options. As a result, I chose to take him out of the traditional public school he was zoned for in Clay County and enroll him at Pataula Charter Academy. During the next three years, what we found was not only a school but a true family that embraces students of all races and backgrounds.

When Jalon started at Pataula, he was a very shy student. That changed almost immediately. Within days, he started making new friends. He also chose to get involved in sports for the first time in his academic career. I saw his confidence grow and his enthusiasm for learning return. He was actively engaged in school again and was excited about the project-based learning model that Pataula uses to teach students how to solve real-world problems, collaborate and gain a deeper understanding of core classroom work.

Like Jalon, I also found the transition to Pataula easy. As an African-American parent in a predominantly white school, I never felt uncomfortable because of my skin color. Instead, I felt accepted and welcomed by parents of all races. The strong and positive culture of the school, along with the parental and community involvement, made Pataula a special place where we were able to form deeper relationships with other families and the area where we live. In the meantime, some parents in the small town where I live asked why I would choose to send my son to what they considered a “white school.” They feared that if they sent their children to Pataula that they would somehow be at a disadvantage because of their skin color. That was far from my experience at the school, and we were not the only family of color.

During the next few years that Jalon spent at Pataula, I got to know his teachers and coaches and was pleased by the encouragement they gave him both in and outside the classroom. They also assisted him with exploring post-secondary options. His father and I asked Jalon to start thinking about a career path as early as ninth grade. Jalon initially expressed interest in becoming a police officer. The teachers at his previous school said they would try to find a way to connect him with a police officer to talk about a career in law enforcement, but nothing ever materialized. During his senior year, Jalon thought about joining the Air Force. When I told a teacher at Pataula, a recruiter came to speak with Jalon the very next day. Shortly after, Jalon decided he would enter the Air Force.

After Jalon graduated from Pataula last spring, we attended a picnic with graduates from his previous school. Out of the approximately 50 students at the picnic, Jalon was among a handful of students who had chosen to pursue a career or higher education after graduation. It really put into focus why the move to Pataula Charter Academy was so important for his future.

Today, Jalon is in the Air Force as a security forces specialist and is preparing to live in Japan for two years. I could not be prouder of him, and sending him and my other four children to Pataula Charter Academy is one of the best decisions I ever made.

Although Jalon has always been smart, Pataula teachers set an even higher academic bar that raised his level of achievement and has been instrumental in his personal success. They also gave him the love and support he needed to grow socially and emotionally. As Pataula Charter Academy seeks to locate a second school in South Georgia, I urge parents of all races and backgrounds to support the creation of this wonderful public school option. Pataula Charter Academy not only has a proven track record of performance but is a place that meets the needs of individuals and allows them to flourish. At Pataula, Jalon was not just another student. As a result, his life and the lives of my other children will never be the same. Their futures are considerably brighter.

Connie Tanner

Fort Gaines

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