Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Franklin Center’s “Amplify Choice” conference to discuss various school choice issues. Besides hearing from various policy experts, we were also able to visit schools where some of these policies are being put in to place. One was Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington DC.
Archbishop Carroll is a school where many of the student body are underprivileged, but chose private school because they and their parents wanted the opportunity for a better education than they would have received from the public school. They’re able to do so, thanks in part to the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides “scholarships to underserved families residing in the District of Columbia with expanded educational opportunities for their children.” President Obama had defunded the program, but it was re-authorized by Congress in 2011.
It was really interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that my mom is a recently retired catholic school teacher, and I’ve seen firsthand the struggles in both keeping these schools open (two of the schools she worked at had closed over her career), as well as the struggles some of these families had in trying to afford a better education for their children…and this is even living in a more middle class neighborhood than some of the students in DC.
The other is that I am a product of Catholic High School, and this was the first time I had been back in one since I graduated twenty-two years ago (editor’s note: ugh). I was fascinated with how more engaged the students were with their teachers, and vice versa. It wasn’t the experience I remembered. A U.S. History class was having an in-depth discussion on civics. A physics class was doing actual experiments. A math teacher made it a point to, as she’s teaching math, make sure the students knew what job opportunities could be available using what they were learning.
When I was in high school, I don’t remember any of us really wanting to be there, and it was less engaging and more lecture, memorize, test. It was refreshing to see things being done a different way.
The students at Archbishop Carroll are getting a great opportunity, and from what I saw, are not taking it for granted as so many of us do. We need more programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarship to help students in lower income areas have the same opportunity to succeed…that they either aren’t or haven’t been getting in the public school system.