Archive | Faith-Based Schools

Building character at St. Vincent

Students at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School learn about character development, which is taught in every area of the school.

What happens when you don’t tell the truth? What are the consequences? How does it affect your life?

Fourth-graders at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach pondered these questions while reading the Newberry Honor-winning novel On My Honor.  The story centers on a boy named Joel whose friend drowns while they are swimming in a dangerous river.

During the discussion, students were asked to weigh in on Joel’s decision to hide the truth about the drowning.

“Lying makes it worse,” one student chimed in.

Another student said: “You don’t value your friends until they’re gone.”

Students at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School were discussing Marion Bauer’s book because it is one of many that focuses on the development of character. At St. Vincent, the school’s theme, Build a Better World by Building a Better You, is taught throughout the school: in classroom projects, curriculum and activities.

“We are under construction,” said Vikki Delgado, principal at St. Vincent. “Sometimes we fail, but we get up and try again.” Continue Reading →


School choice scholarship student soars after quickly hurdling language barrier

MIAMI – The day after Maria Corrales’ tear-soaked graduation ceremony from St. Brendan High School, her mother, Carmen Urquijo, still searched for perspective.

“I have no words,” said Urquijo of her oldest daughter’s path from Cuba to Miami, a four-year journey that saw a girl who didn’t speak any English transform into a college-bound honors student.

A moment later the words spilled forth.

“Proud, grateful, full of joy that she was able to achieve so much,” Carmen said in Spanish. As Maria translated, a slight blush came over her golden skin.

Maria’s journey is a testament to perseverance and opportunity. St. Brendan became a second home, a refuge and a springboard to the American dream. But Maria’s family wouldn’t have been able to afford tuition had it not been for the Florida tax credit scholarship that helps low-income and working-class families. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)

The journey began in the hilly town of Santa Clara, Cuba. Maria was one of the top students in her middle school, but knew from her parents that studies were no guarantee of success in Cuba. Her mom was a doctor, but the profession paid very little. Her father, Fabio Corrales, studied to be an electrician but ended up a businessman who worked with artisans.

The family was comfortable, but a future in Florida looked far brighter. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School crime reporting, scholarships, suit and more

School crime reporting: The Broward County School District has failed to report many students’ crimes to the state as required by state law, according to records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. For example, the district reported 193 weapons were found in schools during the 2016-2017 school year, but officials acknowledge they no longer were counting such things as ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials. District spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan says the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, adds, “The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship oversight: Several legislators say they want to standardize education curriculum for all state schools. Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, was among those calling for the change after a newspaper report detailing some of the materials used by some private schools that enroll students who get scholarships from the state. Among those lessons: people and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not, and God intervened to prevent Catholics from controlling North America. The state doesn’t track curriculum used by private schools with scholarship students, and bars the Florida Education Department from regulating academics at those schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two scholarship programs students use to attend private schools. Orlando Sentinel.

One lawsuit on hold: Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer rules that the Palm Beach County School Board’s challenge of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, is on hold until an appeal on a broader lawsuit against the law is settled. Palm Beach is challenging only the part of the law that requires the district to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes. The other lawsuit, brought by several districts, claims the law is unconstitutional because it has “encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.” redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher wins Tony, spelling bee, security and more

Teacher wins a Tony: Melody Herzfeld, the one-person drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved 65 students during the shooting rampage at the school Feb. 14 by barricading them in a closet, wins a special Tony award for educators. The award is given annually to U.S. teachers who have “demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.” She wins $10,000 and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. Sun-Sentinel. New York Times. Associated Press.

National spelling bee: Two Florida students spell their way into Thursday’s finals at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C, before being  eliminated. Simone Kaplan, a 12-year-old 6th-grader from Davie who attends St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Broward County, was eliminated in the ninth round when she spelled the word carmagnole as carmagnol. Marisa Langley, a 14-year-old home-schooled 8th-grader from Tallahassee, was eliminated in the eighth round when she spelled the word hausen as housen. The champion is Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas. The 519 spellers who started the competition included 31 students from Florida. Associated PressScripps Howard Spelling Bee. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. TCPalm. Continue Reading →

Montana moms get their day in court

Shortly after Montana created its first tax credit scholarship, Mike Kadas, head of the state’s Department of Revenue, unilaterally declared that scholarships could not be used at religious private schools. Kadas argued the state’s Blaine Amendment, a 19th century relic of Catholic discrimination, barred “direct or indirect” appropriations to religious organizations.

School choice moms struck back with a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.

“The rule also violates both the state and federal Constitutions because it allows scholarship recipients to attend any private school except religious ones,” Erica Smith, an attorney with the institute, said in a press release at the time. “That’s discrimination against religion.”

Now two years later these moms will have a chance to make their case before the Montana Supreme Court today.

The case may have national implications. To date, cases hinged on whether the use of school voucher programs violated so-called “separation of church and state” requirements in the U.S. and state constitutions. Sixteen years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that vouchers did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Several other state supreme courts have ruled the same.

While choosing a religious school with vouchers, or tax credit scholarships, is constitutional, is it constitutional for states to prohibit parents from choosing religious options only? Continue Reading →

Florida will honor an education trailblazer

Civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune opened a private, faith-based school in Daytona in 1904 to expand educational opportunity for African-American girls. (Photo from State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.)

A pioneering educator will be the first black woman honored at National Statuary Hall.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday night signed SB 472, a measure replacing Florida’s statue of Confederate General E. Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune.

Her likeness will join that of John Gorrie, the father of air conditioning, representing the Sunshine State at the U.S. Capitol.

Bethune was a civil rights leader and educational freedom-fighter whose commitment to racial uplift resonates in the present.

As this blog has noted before:

With $1.50 to her name, Bethune opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. There were public schools for black students in early 1900s Florida, but they were far inferior to white schools.

Bethune’s vision for something better was shaped by her own educational experience.

She attended three private, faith-based schools as a student. She taught at three private, faith-based schools before building her own. In every case, support for those schools, financial and otherwise, came from private contributions, religious institutions – and the communities they served. Backers were motivated by the noble goal of expanding educational opportunity. Black parents ached for it. That’s why, in the early days of her school, Bethune rode around Daytona on a second-hand bicycle, knocking on doors to solicit donations. That’s why her students mashed sweet potatoes for fund-raiser pies, while Bethune rolled up the crust.

Fla. Hare Krishna school gives lessons in service

A student meticulously counts beads at Bhaktivedanta Academy in Alachua, a Hare Krishna school

Alachua, Fla. – The art projects were distinct from most others. Students at Bhaktivedanta Academy had to use pieces of trash to create artwork weighing less than 50 pounds.

The project, Trashformations, was part of the 19th-annual student recycled art competition sponsored by the Alachua County Commission.

Students at the academy, which is rooted in the Hindu faith, worked tirelessly and won first place for their aquarium they built entirely out of discarded materials. They also garnered a third-place award for a city built out of similar material.

But the students did not complete the project to win awards or receive course credit. They wanted to bring awareness to the community of the need to recycle.

This was not their first community service project. Students at the academy have also collected food items and necessities for families in need, while others visited homebound individuals. Several students recently baked cupcakes, raising $296 for families in Puerto Rico.

David Aguilera, the school’s principal, said community projects are a central part of the Hare Krishna faith. The academy is open to students from diverse religious backgrounds, and it works to instill tenets like community service in all its students.

“The basic principle of Krishna Consciousness is we all have a relationship with God,” he said. “Our life purpose is to reestablish that relationship in loving service.” Continue Reading →

All things are possible when students have options

For those of us who follow school choice discussions, the past two weeks have given ample material for conversation, given National School Choice Week, followed by Catholic Schools Week, and the news of the imminent closing of nine Jubilee Catholic Schools with their unique history and mission in Memphis, Tennessee.

During School Choice Week, CSF’s New Hampshire program was part of a happy gathering with 350 people showing up in the middle of an ice storm to celebrate what can happen when parents are empowered with real educational choices for their children. The New Hampshire tax credit program is growing and there is a possibility of education savings accounts (ESAs) in the future. This has uncovered parental demand for more options, and in response, the Catholic Superintendent announced they will actually be opening four new schools. The size of the tax credit program to date does not support four new schools, but the change in culture and expectations does.  It has become an environment of hope and excitement about what’s possible. Continue Reading →