Awareness and support of educational choice is gaining steam, according to advocates who noted the crowd at Wednesday's local rally celebrating National School Choice Week was larger this year than in the past.
"I do think there's a big change in the culture and options for students, which is great because not everybody learns the same," said Dessa Baxman, who teaches character classes at Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a charter school.
A diverse crowd of 350 to 400 people attended, estimated organizer Deborah Hendrix of Parents Challenge.
"Schools are working hard to be more competitive and provide for the needs of students," she said. "One size does not fit all, and we support all schools, whether public or private."
Parents Challenge, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that provides education scholarships and programs for low-income families, arranged the morning event, which was held on the steps of City Hall.
Attendees included students, parents, teachers and staff of private, religious, charter, magnet, online, traditional public schools and homeschool settings.
Buoyed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' platform promoting vouchers and educational choice, the number of Americans celebrating this week's eighth annual choice observance is expected to hit an all-time high, according to promoters.
Nearly 7 million people are projected to participate in some 32,000 events around the nation, including 559 throughout Colorado.
Steve Schuck, the founder of Parents Challenge, in an interview called DeVos "a warrior whose focus is on what's best for kids and who is trying to empower parents."
However, "The resistance of the status quo is as great as ever," Schuck said. "The challenge remains as it always has been - too many kids aren't proficient and are being failed by the system."
Wearing bright yellow scarves and carrying signs that said "Celebrate Teachers Celebrate Choice," "Let Me Learn" and "Put Kids First," elementary, middle and high school students sang, danced and heard speakers talk about what educational choice means.
"We have a crisis of character and a crisis of leadership today in our country," said Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican representing El Paso County who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
He challenged teachers to embrace their work and students to "love learning" and "find great satisfaction in the process of education."
Colorado Springs Christian Schools senior Natalie Morris said she likes the academic rigor, personalized attention and growth she's achieved at her school.
"Some people who teach me are willing to support me outside of school," she said, "and I'm extremely grateful for the guidance."
Rashae Biglo-Wright, who attends Atlas Preparatory Charter School, said teachers make sure everyone does their math and English work, and gets tutoring, added Atlas Prep student Kiana Dawson.
"In this country, having an educational choice spells freedom," said homeschool student Serena Ankrum. "For me, homeschool has represented growth," both emotional and intellectual.
"Not everyone gets the chance to get the education they want," said 17-year-old Hannah Lau Hee, who attends Colorado Springs Early Colleges and wants to study inclusive early childhood education. "I chose this school because it gives me the chance to graduate high school with an associate degree and get a step ahead in my career."
Harrison High School student Jimena Hernandez said she likes "the educational opportunities, the automatic sense of belonging and the diversity" at her school.
Andre Spencer, superintendent of Harrison School District 2, the area's most socio-economically diverse district, was one of the few superintendents at the event.
School choice "doesn't have to take anything away from traditional public education," he said in an interview.
"We have options galore in our district," Spencer said. "Options can be provided in traditional public education - it's a matter of just figuring out what your stakeholders are looking for."