Editor’s note: Theodore Forstmann, philanthropist and co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, died Sunday at the age of 71. Forstmann created the scholarship fund in 1998. Darla Romfo, the fund’s president and an associate with the American Center for School Choice, recently contributed this post for redefinED.
News from the education front tends to be grim these days. Despite all the significant education reform efforts in recent years, there are still hundreds of thousands of students in underperforming schools in every state. But there are pockets of hope, and it’s important to remember there are always reasons to be optimistic.
This fall marks the thirteenth year that thousands of low-income children were able to attend the private school of their family’s choice with a partial scholarship from Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). Now that almost 123,000 children have gone through our program, we are beginning to witness our CSF Scholars become young adults and take their place in the world. The value of what we are doing struck me again this August at a CSF alumni gathering when I met Jason Tejada, an impressive young man in his junior year at Columbia University.
Jason was in fourth grade when a teacher at his public school told his mother, Luz, about CSF because she thought it would open the doors to better educational opportunities. Although Jason was smart and did well at school, Luz liked the idea of a more disciplined environment, and with a CSF scholarship, she enrolled Jason at Incarnation School in Washington Heights.
While Luz and her husband, Francisco, couldn’t afford full tuition at Incarnation on the money they earned from their cleaning jobs, the small family contribution required by CSF was manageable. When Jason’s younger sisters, Joandalys and Jorvelyn, were ready to start school, they also became CSF Scholars at Incarnation.
Jason’s sister, Jorvelyn, recently told us, “The day you gave my brother that scholarship marked a huge change in our lives.”
After Incarnation, Jason went on to All Hallows High School with another scholarship, eventually graduating as valedictorian. As he told us, “The CSF scholarship afforded me a disciplined and thorough education which set my standards and goals. Incarnation gave me a second family. All Hallows made me a responsible gentleman.” After high school, Jason earned a full scholarship to Columbia. An economics major, he interned at J.P. Morgan Chase this summer.
Jason’s success inspired his sisters to set high academic goals too. Joandalys, who just began her senior year at St. Jean Baptiste High School (also with a scholarship), plans to major in international business. She is already making college visits with an after-school program at Barnard College. And Jorvelyn, who won a scholarship to attend Notre Dame High School in Manhattan this fall, wants to become an archeologist or paleontologist.
Their mother, Luz, told me, “As parents, we wish the best for our children. I hope to see all three of them become professionals with careers.”
What a privilege it is to watch young people like Jason and his sisters grow up to fulfill their potential and to empower parents like Luz and Francisco to choose a high-quality school for their children. Our families remind me there is no better way to break the cycle of poverty than through education. So however difficult it may seem as the latest round of test scores are released or a new political fight about charters or vouchers or accountability emerges, we have to remember the real people involved, and persevere to offer more and more children access to a high-quality education. Our future as a nation depends on it.