GARY — U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put Gary on the map in a big way Friday when she visited local charter schools, complimenting the students' education and the ability of parents to make a choice in their children's education.

DeVos visited Gary Middle College and 21st Century Charter School as part of her 2017 Rethink School Tour. DeVos concluded her tour in Missouri and Indiana Friday. Throughout the week, DeVos has highlighted the unique ways in which educators across the country are meeting the needs of individual students. 

The two charter schools are operated by Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation. The foundation's CEO/founder Kevin Teasley, along with dignitaries, politicians and educators from across Northwest Indiana and the state, were on hand to greet DeVos and listen in on a panel discussion where several 21st Century Charter school students talked about the number of credits they have earned on the road to a associate and bachelor's degree.

DeVos, who is a well known advocate for charter schools and using taxpayer dollars to support private schools, went into classrooms and stopped to talk with teachers and students in both school buildings.

Junior DeAngello Davis said he is working on a robotics project as part of a class through Vincennes University. "It was an honor to meet Secretary DeVos. She seemed really nice. It's good to meet one of the higher-ups," he said after talking to her.

Sophomore Teresa Maciel said she was inspired to attend 21st Century Charter School after meeting Raven Osborne in May. Osborne, who graduated from the charter school in May, may be the lone student in the state who earned her bachelor's degree a few weeks before she earned her high school diploma drawing attention across the country.

Maciel said she wants to be a mechatronics engineer. She currently has three college credits, and is working towards the associate degree.

"I got a chance to meet Raven and Mr. Cherry and the minute I saw this school, I knew it was where I wanted to be," Maciel said. "The programs here allow us to get a step ahead."

Senior James Kelley said his family moved from Chicago to the Region, and he said he found 21st Century Charter School. "This school is one of the best educational facilities that I've ever gone to. They really prepare you for college. I intend to be an engineer," he said.

Felecia Day, a student at Gary Middle College which is designed for the non-traditional student who wants to earn a high school diploma, said she came to the school with the credits that qualified her to be a high school sophomore. She said she will have enough to graduate by January.

DeVos said on Friday, day four of her tour that started in Wyoming, there is one common theme.

"That is that every student, every child, every young adult is, indeed, an individual and is unique and different. There is no one size fits all way to meet their needs," she said.

"It's been a particular joy to meet and talk to the students this week."

When some of the low test scores at local charter schools were brought to DeVos' attention, she said, "Parents need to have information and will do what is in the best interest of their children. We're hearing from these students today that this is a good fit for them and that's what we hope for."

DeVos said she has visited traditional public schools as well as charter schools, and would be happy to come back.

She said she would use the information she's gained on the tour to develop creative and innovative approaches to meet the needs of each individual student.

A half a dozen people stood on Eighth Avenue and Adams Street in Gary behind 21st Century Charter School holding signs in protest of DeVos' visit and stance on traditional public school education.

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Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.