January 22-28, 2017 is National School Choice Week, which means it’s time to once again celebrate the power of educational choice. This week is a celebration of more than an interesting theory or idea. It’s about making a difference in thousands of students’ lives every day. I should know; I am one of those students.
There are four nonprofit organizations in Colorado that take donations to provide scholarships to private K-12 schools for children from low-income families. These four organizations are ACE Scholarships, Seeds of Hope, Challenge Foundation, and Parents Challenge. The scholarships provided by these organizations have positively impacted my life and the lives of many others. But a lack of funding means there are still children like me who are not given the same opportunity.
I thankfully received a scholarship from ACE when I was in middle school. I was too young in sixth grade to fully understand what school choice meant for me. Now, as a senior at Arrupe Jesuit High School, I know just how essential that scholarship was to my future.
I grew up in a low-income family for whom private school seemed out of reach. I attended public elementary school. Going to a public middle school would have been the easy next step, but sometimes the easy way isn’t always the best way. My mom was determined to give me the best education possible. She made many sacrifices and reached out to organizations like ACE for help.
Those efforts paid off. With a scholarship, I attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy in Denver. There, I was embraced and welcomed into a loving and caring community focused on preparing me for high school.
St. Rose gave me the opportunity to grow both academically and spiritually. The school laid down the foundation of a Catholic education, and I loved every bit of it! My desire to continue with Catholic education made school choice an essential part of choosing a high school. With my ACE scholarship, I was able to attend Arrupe Jesuit High School, a private Catholic high school serving low-income students.
Arrupe Jesuit’s Corporate Work Study Program has opened so many doors for me. Because all Arrupe Jesuit students come from low-income families that cannot pay full tuition, the school needs a way to cover costs. Thus, each student spends five full days a month at a real job—a job that provides the money required to cover 65% of our tuition. These jobs can be with a variety of organizations. Right now, I am working for 9News. Over the course of my high school career, I’ve also worked for a public policy think tank, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s corporate office, DaVita, and a local law firm.
While working in the Corporate Work Study Program, I have developed important office skills, helped with research, improved my writing skills, and made guest appearances in videos about school choice. In each of these positions I have been treated as a colleague and an adult, which has allowed me to communicate with adults in the business world, build confidence, and create connections.
Along with acquiring new skills, I was able to see how these organizations function from the inside. I saw all the hard work that goes into making a company or nonprofit great. I saw that people working in these places cared about the success of the organizations and about each other. I also learned the value of teamwork.
The excellent academic program at Arrupe Jesuit has resulted in my acceptance to all eight colleges to which I applied. After I graduate in May of 2017, I will attend college and pursue a journalism or communications degree along with a business degree. Looking back, I realize it would not have been possible to attend St. Rose or Arrupe Jesuit without financial help. I believe that school choice—and the financial aid it enabled me to access it—has indelibly and positively impacted my life. Without the opportunities I’ve had, I would not be in the same position I am in today.
I hope one day to see a real change, a change that gives every student an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of financial status by opening the door to a high-quality education. School choice changed my life. I know that if each student is able to go to the school of their choice, their lives could also be changed.
DeMarco Randall is a senior at Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver, Colorado
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