by Perry Athanason
When Gianna Viale started first grade at the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando, she had no idea there were forces working behind the scenes to ensure she would have the best educational opportunities available to her. But the one person who loves her the most was shaping her life: her mom.
Gianna’s mom, Maria Galindo, made a promise to herself when her daughter was born that no sacrifice would be too great when it came to making sure her daughter had every opportunity she could afford. Being a single mom, Maria admits that she plays the role of mother and father, filling her daughter’s heart and mind with unconditional love and understanding. She acknowledges that though many personal sacrifices were made for her daughter in the early years, the first major decision for Maria came while Gianna was in kindergarten.
“Her kindergarten was a good school, but I noticed that the other parents were not as involved with their kid’s education as I was,” said Maria. “There were certain things I noticed that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. They weren’t horrible things, but I felt that if I was uncomfortable, then my daughter must also feel uncomfortable.”
Maria’s suspicions were verified when she learned her daughter was being bullied and teased from older kids, even while still in kindergarten. She decided to search for a different environment.
A friend told her about the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando and even though it was a bit further from her home than Gianna’s school, she visited immediately. She decided this was the school for her daughter. She knew it would be impossible to afford alone, so she began researching financial assistance and found the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship program. (Florida tax credit scholarships are sometimes called private school vouchers. They’re administered by Step Up, which co-hosts this blog.)
This was the turning point Maria was desperately looking for on behalf of her daughter’s education and future. Looking back now, Maria feels that this single event changed the course of her daughter’s educational experience.
Gianna is now a well-rounded fifth-grader at Good Shepherd.
“This year, my scholarship was renewed on April 11th, which happens to be my birthday,” said a smiling Gianna. “I love my school and knowing I was able to stay for my fifth-grade year was the best birthday gift I could have ever asked for.”
Gianna speaks of school with wonderment and a thirst for knowledge that has been developed and nurtured through her years at Good Shepherd. Maria says that Gianna’s positive attitude is partly due to the curriculum practiced at the school, specifically the multi-age classroom (MAC) program.
“The MAC program strengthens our ability to create a continuous progress of learning with our students,” said Jayme Hartmann, Good Shepherd Catholic School principal. “Creating group sessions allows us to accommodate varying skill levels, close educational gaps, support personal growth and create an environment more specific to individual learning needs of our students.”
The MAC program is designed by grouping students from different grades and Gianna’s classroom is shared by fourth- and fifth-graders. This allows each student to remain with the same teacher for two school years.
“This programmatic approach has proven to foster a comfort level allowing students to grow at their own pace and to feel safe in expressing their thoughts and learning,” said Hartmann.
Gianna credits the MAC environment to her learning, and more importantly, applying what she has learned in school to elements of her outside world and vice versa.
“Gianna looks for ways to incorporate what she learns at school into her life,” said Maria. “She really makes a conscious effort to make that connection between the two places and she shares with me many things about science, math and all her subjects.”
At the end of the day, Maria said, it was the desire to teach her daughter strong values that led her to make certain personal sacrifices, to work hard for Gianna and to ensure that she has the best education and opportunities possible.
For the future, Gianna hopes that she will be able to stay with Good Shepherd and move onto Bishop Moore Catholic High School, also in Orlando, which she can do only with a Step Up For Students scholarship. Her mom, steadfast in her desire to give Gianna a safe and quality education, continues to work very hard to meet her part of the financial obligations not covered by the scholarship.
“Seeing my mom work hard for me so that I can go to a school I love, makes me study hard so that I can do the best that I can do,” said Gianna while smiling at her mom. “Together, my mom and I can do anything.”
Shortly after Good Shepherd Mission Church in Orlando was built in 1956, the first classes for the school bearing the same name, were held inside the church with Sister Mary Dorothea, the school’s first principal and the Sisters of St. Joseph. That same year, 150 students in grades kindergarten through fourth were housed in three portables.
The first permanent two-story building was built in 1959,where the school remains today. The school now provides preschool to eighth-grade education and more than 525 students are enrolled for the 2013-14 school year, 105 of which are Step Up scholars. Tuition for the 2013-14 school year is $7,344. The school uses the Iowa Assessments to measure academic success.