PALM COAST – Every school day at 7 a.m., a small bus rolls to a stop in front of the rectory of the Catholic church in Crescent City. Waiting to board are a handful of students, including Jesus Martinez-Cruz and his little brother, Christian.
They are headed on a 50-minute ride to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton Catholic School in Palm Coast.
Jesus and his schoolmates are part of the Rural Education Initiative, a program started during the 2020-21 school year by the Diocese of St. Augustine as a means of creating opportunities for a Catholic education to students who live in sparsely populated areas that cannot support a Catholic school.
Crescent City’s population is under 1,700, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, where Jesus and his friends catch the bus, does not have a Catholic school.
If not for the REI, these children would not receive a Catholic education. And if not for the scholarships managed by Step Up For Students, many of those families would not be able to attend a Catholic school.
Jesus, a sixth-grader, and Christian, a second-grader, receive the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options.
“To have the (Rural Education Initiative), for his parents to be able to choose a Catholic school that they want so much for their children and Jesus wants for himself, they would never have that opportunity without Step Up,” said Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton Catholic School principal Barbara Kavanagh.
There have been days when the bus broke down and the boys’ parents had to drive them back and forth to school. That’s more than 90 minutes round trip, twice a day. As it is, the bus returns the students to Crescent City at 4 p.m.
But Elvira Cruz and her husband, Jesus Martinez-Puente, are not deterred by the distance and the drive from their home to their children’s school.
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