Great Hearts Texas leaders invited me to speak at their annual Summit, a gathering of all the teachers and staff in the San Antonio area to rededicate themselves to the mission of offering students a classical education in a public charter school setting. The event was held on Friday, September 13, 2019 in the Rosenberg Skyroom at the University of the Incarnate Word. The event began with Austin Walker, Latin/Greek teacher at Great Hearts Monte Vista North, playing bagpipe music (like he always does at morning dropoff) and then Andrew Ellison, Executive Director of Great Hearts in San Antonio, welcomed me to the podium. After my remarks, Robert Funes, Dean at Great Hearts Northern Oaks, spoke about how Great Hearts has changed him as a teacher. A pickup group of Great Hearts faculty sang a 16th century polyphonic song. Next, Mr. Ellison spoke at length about the ideals of a classical education, and released the teachers and staff for a celebration. I am thankful to Great Hearts Texas for inviting me to share my story with their team.
My name is Inga Cotton, and I am the parent of two students at Great Hearts Monte Vista. Thank you for this opportunity to share my family’s story with the teachers and staff of Great Hearts Texas in San Antonio.
I can say unequivocally that becoming a Great Hearts family has changed all of our lives for the better. Let me tell you briefly about our journey to Great Hearts, the struggles along the way, and how Great Hearts has changed what we love as a family.
We have two children. Nicholas is now in the seventh grade at Great Hearts Monte Vista North and Annika is now in the fourth grade at Great Hearts Monte Vista South. Nicholas was in second grade when Great Hearts Monte Vista opened.
Why did we come to Great Hearts? I have been a school choice supporter since I was a teenager who was different, didn’t fit in, who wanted an alternative to a big public high school, and cited Milton Friedman in a college term paper about school choice in 1992.
When I first learned about Great Hearts in 2011, my reaction was, “Wow! A Great Books Education in a free public school. This is a great opportunity for children. We need this in San Antonio.” It appealed to me intellectually. At the time, I didn’t know I would need it for my own children.
That year, when Nicholas was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. We moved out of our rental house near downtown and bought a house in the highest-property-wealth-per-pupil school district in central San Antonio, one with a highly regarded special education program. We thought we were set.
While Great Hearts was in the process of finding buildings and hiring teachers, things got worse and worse for Nicholas at our neighborhood public school. His teacher made up her mind that he was a bad kid and would never amount to anything in life.
We looked at what the district had to offer in higher grades and decided it wasn’t worth fighting for. Instead, we chose to homeschool. We were stateless, adrift—education refugees. It was terrifying. I didn’t know what kind of future my son would have. I realized that the school choice options I had been fighting for—for other people’s kids—were something that I desperately needed for my own family.
At Great Hearts Monte Vista, in second grade, Nicholas had a difficult adjustment to being in school. He went to the Headmaster’s office several times. But he had a teacher who saw his potential and never gave up on him. She saw that he is a smart kid, but that he needs more guidance about how to be part of human society and to behave consistently with the virtues.
This was a revelation for a family who always felt rejected, turned away at the door, nose pressed against the glass looking at the life we wanted to be a part of but were told we didn’t belong. I had never before experienced that kind of love for my son from an educator.
After all the struggles at our neighborhood school, I never expected how profoundly my life would change because of the community of Great Hearts families. I had gotten used to being different and not fitting in: listening to classical music, going to museums and libraries, raising my children to be self-disciplined, living in the world with sincerity and not cynicism.
In the Great Hearts community, we have found families who love the same things we do, and are bending their energies towards the same goals: raising children to be independent adults who care about doing good in the world and who also appreciate the beauty and richness of life.
This goes beyond just having people alongside us who are doing similar things. The Great Hearts community is an emergent culture. New customs are forming. We share ideas and opportunities with each other, whether it’s parent-organized field trips to museums, meetups at classical music concerts or swing dance lessons.
We reinforce each other on matters like limiting screen time and teaching our children to use media responsibly. We teach our children to expect to go to college and to work hard to prepare for it. We also expect our children to work hard in service to the community, but they are doing it together, not in isolation, and not for a line item on a resume but because their hearts are moved.
Becoming a Great Hearts family has changed our lives in profound ways. My kids have been loved and welcomed by their teachers and classmates in ways that I hadn’t dared to hope for. But also the community of Great Hearts families has emerged, based on a set of beautiful things that we all love. I truly believe that from this nucleus we will change the culture of San Antonio and change the world. Thank you for making that possible.
- “[Texas Public Radio] Worth Repeating: Inga Wanted More for Her Son,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, November 1, 2018
- “Our Back to School Story: Elementary School and Middle School at Great Hearts Academies,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, September 6, 2018
- “Corazones maravillosos: Great Hearts Monte Vista sesión de puertas abiertas,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 5, 2014
- “Building a School Community: Notes from the Great Hearts Monte Vista Open House,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 13, 2014