By Brent E. Betit
This story isn’t about learning to drive. It’s about driving to learn. It is also a note of appreciation to some extraordinary parents – many of them moms – on this Mother’s Day.
When I arrived at The Fletcher School in July 2016, it was by car, driving from southern Vermont to Charlotte with my wife and a gorgeous little black pug named Maya. Only one of us did not object to the 17-hour length of the trip, and that was because she was sleeping almost the entire way. My dog took some naps, too.
During the trip, we passed by Lake Norman and I took notice of the name of a nearby town – Davidson – because I had heard great things about the college with that name.
Later that fall, I was chatting with a Fletcher mom during a soccer game. She mentioned that she had been driving from Davidson every day for several years to deliver her two children to the school, and that now four more families from Davidson did the same thing – having learned about the school from her. I thought for a moment that I had heard incorrectly. Davidson? Every day? In Charlotte traffic?
But it’s true, these parental saints actually do drive their kids to Fletcher every day – because they know that Fletcher is an absolutely awesome school for kids with learning differences and they want to be sure their children reach their greatest potential. Fletcher students enjoy success because of our unrelenting focus on their potential, our belief in their capabilities, and our commitment as educators to foster a joyful learning environment that acknowledges and embraces their individual learning styles. But it all starts with parents who never give up on their children, and believe in their gifts.
Of course, I stampeded through the entire school the next day trumpeting about the passion and commitment of these amazing parents (yes, sort of an ‘educator as elephant’ moment; it might explain why the first-graders call me “The Big Teacher.”) When I mentioned it to our admissions team, they said, “Wise up, Big Teacher. Lots of our families commute,” and gave me a spreadsheet proving it.
That is how I discovered that a convoy arrives to Sardis Road each morning and departs each afternoon, coming from Charlotte, but also from Davidson, Cramerton, Gastonia, Lincolnton, Mount Holly, Newton and surrounding towns after making the long trip to The Fletcher School. While I have no data to validate it, I am confident that this pattern is repeated in city after city across these United States, wherever there are great independent school options, because parents agree with John Dewey that, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
In examining that admissions spreadsheet, I discovered that, for Fletcher’s most remote families, driving to learn means they spend countless hours every week in their cars, making the lengthy round trip to Fletcher. Our traveling families who live outside the city of Charlotte drive an amazing 400,000-plus miles and spend almost 14,000 hours in their cars every school year – driving to learn. The distance is nearly equal to a roundtrip voyage to the moon!
Our parents make that journey to the moon because they know that the educational life that Fletcher students enjoy is built on profound insight into the beauty and structure of the English language and an equally strong belief in the potential of students who learn differently to master literacy skills, always while learning and growing. Founded on Orton Gillingham principles, The Fletcher School offers a joyful educational environment for students with learning differences and executive function challenges that prepares them to reach their full potential.
The Fletcher program works: We recently received 5-year longitudinal data from the ACT comparing our graduate’s college readiness benchmark scores with all graduates of public and independent schools across the entire state of North Carolina. Over the past five years, Fletcher graduates placed significantly higher on three of the four college readiness benchmarks, compared to their North Carolina college-bound peers. And every Fletcher graduate this year is headed to further education, with the current graduating class of 18 students already accepted at more than 40 universities and colleges, from A (Appalachian State) to X (Xavier), and including the Citadel, Syracuse, and many other selective colleges. Driving to learn makes sense.
So thank you dads and moms, for the extraordinary commitment you make to creating the next generation of citizens and societal leaders, across this city of Charlotte, and throughout the United States. The lines of traffic and miles of roadways are daunting, but you keep at it, and the entire country benefits when your children graduate, and go on to academic, career and life success. On this Mother’s Day, consider giving your favorite mom a tank of gas for the school commute!
Brent E. Betit works as head of school at The Fletcher School.