Education is the Ticket Out of Poverty

Toni Airaksinen, a senior at Barnard College in New York, illustrates the powerful impact of school choice and how a student’s potential for prosperity can be supported with access to educational options.

U.S. Dept. of Education
2 min readJan 25, 2018

Her daily struggles consisted of parents who were unable to invest in her education, as well as inadequate access to supports, financial resources, and transportation to her desired school.

“My family was constantly faced with difficult situations due to our lack of finances. They didn’t have time to worry about my schooling. But, I knew I wanted something better out of life,” says Toni.

When Toni graduated from middle school in Cleveland, Ohio, she had two options: To attend the local high school that had a bad track record of not graduating students, or to commute two hours each way by multiple buses to a magnet school on the opposite side of town.

“The zoned high school for my neighborhood is failing. I’ve seen students come in and out of that school with little hope for the future,” Toni said. “There, teachers don’t tell students that they are able to apply to college while in high school. I didn’t want that, so I had to find something different.”

Toni choose John Hay Early College High School, a magnet school with a specialized curriculum that allowed Toni, at the age of 15, to start taking college courses from Cleveland State University. Toni graduated from high school with over 70 college credit hours.

Toni’s humble beginnings did not prevent her from the accomplishment of graduating high school and going on to college.

“My school had a strong college advising program and teachers who truly cared,” Toni says. “Becoming the first person in my family to attend college has exposed me to a different world.”

Toni is now in the last year of her undergraduate career, she is without debt, and has had time to reflect on her past.

“Growing up, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how I’d get there. Early College helped me to accomplish my goals. There’s no way I would have gotten this far without school choice.”