I am a single mom with one daughter, Haley. I’ve been financially and physically raising my daughter on my own for all 16 years of her life. I worked a full-time job and a second part-time job just so that I could send her to a Catholic grammar school starting in kindergarten.
I knew early on that public schools wouldn’t meet my daughter’s needs and potential. I grew up in the same town, I went to school there. I knew what my education was like, and I just wanted better for her. So, I worked two jobs to put her in a Catholic school. It wasn’t until around eighth grade that Empower Illinois and the rest of the scholarship granting organizations came onto the scene. That was probably the first time I could actually breathe a little and not work as much – actually get to spend a little more time with my daughter.
In sixth grade, they started talking to the kids about high school. One of her teachers pulled her aside and told her she should consider Fenwick, that she would be a perfect fit. Haley started looking more into it and decided that’s what where she wanted to go. I really didn’t want to tell her, but there was no way we could afford Fenwick…even with their financial aid package, we would come up short. There was just no way that I could figure out how to afford it. But when Empower Illinois came along, that was our first bit of hope.
Her biggest thing was that she wanted to go where she felt she belonged, where she was surrounded by her type of people – in her words, where she is surrounded by ‘weirdos just like her.’ She is really into music and has been since a young age. She started with piano when she was younger. At Fenwick, freshmen aren’t allowed to audition for piano spots, so she decided to try a new instrument – the alto saxophone. She picked it up like it was nothing. Now she’s part of four different bands at Fenwick. She’s also part of stage crew, theater, and the art program. Haley is learning three new instruments now and they teach her privately at no cost. Music is definitely something she wants to pursue in college and possibly beyond. The resources and opportunities at Fenwick have made it possible for her talents to grow. It’s been incredible to watch.
Her freshman class is 190-some kids. If she went to her public high school, her class would be many times that size. That alone speaks volumes: the teacher-to-student ratio speaks volumes. Fenwick also has an entire team there to help and guide her when she needs it. This level of support is unheard of elsewhere. When I was at my public high school, there was no push for me to get involved and no push for me to apply to colleges. There were so many kids and so few counselors, and so little time for counselors to meet with their students. I can tell you it’s much different at Fenwick, they really push the student to achieve more than they think they can achieve – and they give them the tools to make it happen. For me, that’s a big deal.
Without our Invest in Kids scholarships, none of this would have ever been a possibility. I would have had to tell my daughter ‘no.’ Cutting or eliminating the program would be a big mistake. Kids with bright futures ahead of them would get lost in the mix, in the midst of overcrowded schools when they deserve a better education. I would hate to see the program cut for kids like my daughter. They deserve smaller classrooms and good schools. These scholarships make that possible for families like ours. They make a huge difference.