A More Rigorous Education: A Gifted Family’s School Choice Story
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  • Dec 17 2018

A More Rigorous Education: A Gifted Family’s School Choice Story

We interviewed a Florida parent about how her academically gifted children are thriving because of a tax-credit scholarship

In this episode of EdChoice Chats, our CRM and Email Marketing Manager Abby Hayes talks with Ola Alayande, a mother of seven children, about her family’s experience with Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which gives her high-achieving students access to the challenging curriculum they need.

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Abby Hayes: Welcome to another episode of EdChoice Chats, I’m Abby Hayes. Our CRM and email marketing manager here at Ed Choice. Today, I’m interviewing Ola, from Florida, whose seven children are at a Catholic school thanks to Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program.

It’s a great interview, I hope you’ll enjoy.

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your family to get started. You have quite a few children I understand.

Olasumbo Alayande: I do. I have … I’ve been blessed with seven children in total. Actually, my family is a result of two blended families together.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. My oldest is 14. She was my first child before marriage. Then my husband, when I married my husband, he came with four children. Which is child number two, who is twelve. Child number three, which is nine, she’s nine, and a set of twin girls, six years old.

Abby Hayes: Oh my goodness!

Olasumbo Alayande: So, yes. So, after we were married, we went from a two family household to a seven family household, because it was my husband and four other children. So, it was a large family to begin with.

Abby Hayes: Sure.

Olasumbo Alayande: So, a few years down the line, we added the two younger boys in between us. So, we are a product of a blended family. My children used to go to public school.

I was a public school math teacher. I used to teach at Duval County public school at high school math, for a couple of years. So, when I decided that we were going to have two other children, I decided that I have to leave Duval County Public Schools, so that I can be more involved in my children. So, my children went to Duval County Public School.

Unfortunately, Duval County Public School, the schools that they were going did not meet up with my expectations for their level of education because my children were ahead.

They were basically not giving them more … Being rigorous in the work.

So, I decided that I was going to look into other opportunities for them to go to other schools to see if their curriculum would be a little bit more rigorous.

Somebody recommended me to Christ the King. So I called Christ the King, the school that my kids go to currently, and I asked them if they had scholarships. The front desk lady told me that, “We do offer…” That they do offer Catholic scholarships, however, “Have you ever heard of Step Up.” I’m like, “What is Step Up?”

Now, mind you, I’ve been a Duval County Public School teacher for 10 years, and I’ve never heard of Step Up. Because all my children have been going to Duval County Public Schools. So, when she mentioned it, she told me about the website.

And I said, “Okay, well, let me go take a look.” At that time, I was out of work. I was only teaching part time at University or North Florida, as a part-time adjunct mathematics professor. Which means, my income level was not enough for all my five, almost six children, well, five children at the time, because my two younger ones were still very little to start a real school. They were still going to a daycare. For my five children to go to a Catholic school.

So, I looked into it. I was like, “Okay, well, let me take a look and see if I can qualify.” So, I ran the application, and I qualified. So, when it came back, I called the school back, and they told me, “Well guess what? You can bring all your kids to Christ the King Catholic School, and you wouldn’t have to pay a dime.” I was livid [sic]! I fell on the floor. I was like-

Abby Hayes: That’s amazing.

Olasumbo Alayande: …”Are you serious?” She was like, “Yes.” I was like, “Okay, that’s one hurdle down.” So, now I have to look at the other hurdle, and the other hurdle was, “Is your curriculum rigorous enough for my children?” Because, like I said earlier, my children are high-performance, straight A kids. So, I have to make sure that what I was stepping into was not a step lower than what I’m coming from.

Abby Hayes: Sure.

Olasumbo Alayande: Because my children to Duval County Public Schools, so their schools were the top three schools were in the top three schools in Duval County, the elementary school. So, when I came to Christ the King, the first teacher I met graduated from Notre Dame. I was like, “Okay.”

Abby Hayes: Wow, yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: I was like, “Okay.” She told me, she was like, “I’m going to set out a different curriculum for your son. And I know how high-performing he was.” He took the test for fourth grade, and they were only into fourth grade, and he tested into fifth grade.

Abby Hayes: Wow.

Olasumbo Alayande: Right. I told her, “You see what I’m talking about?” The principal actually told me, “I’ve never seen a child get 100% on any of the pre-tests before. I said, “Know you know the kind of children I have. I need to make sure that I have that option here where they can receive rigorous work. Not just hindrance, just like everybody else.” So, Step Up gave my children and I the opportunity for my children to be able to receive a higher level education at no cost to me.

Abby Hayes: That’s amazing.

Olasumbo Alayande: Because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Abby Hayes: I can imagine.

Olasumbo Alayande: Right. Now, my oldest daughter goes to Bishop Kenny. She’s also receiving Step Up. She’s in ninth grade.

Abby Hayes: Did the-

Olasumbo Alayande: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Abby Hayes: Did the other school … No, that’s okay. Was the other school, Christ the King, right? Is that just for elementary? Is that why she’s in a different school?

Olasumbo Alayande: That’s just for elementary and middle school. Yes.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: Just for elementary and middle. But it’s a feeder school into Bishop Kenny. But, even though she never came up to Step Up until Christ the King, or eighth grade year, she went to another school. But she received Step Up for ninth grade. Which was amazing. Because now, even though she’s in ninth grade, and it’s just one half of the year down, she took the pre-SAT, and she scored over 1,000 points out of 1,520.

Abby Hayes: That’s amazing.

Olasumbo Alayande: I have high-performing children, and I need to know that when they go to school. That they will receive what they are supposed to receive, so that when they come home, I would just follow up with the education. I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to teach all my seven children basic education from the beginning, and then I’m over working myself.

Abby Hayes: Sure.

Olasumbo Alayande: I have to make sure that the school that they’re going to is giving them the basic knowledge, so when they come home, I will work with them to improve their knowledge, to increase their knowledge. So, Step Up gave me that opportunity.

The other day I was telling my husband, I calculated how much Step Up was giving me. I told my husband, If I was to step out of my house, and go get a full time job, do you understand what I’m telling you?

Abby Hayes: Sure.

Olasumbo Alayande: Monday through Friday, eight to five my salary may be enough, maybe just about enough to pay for tuition for all seven children. But I would never bring anything else home. That would be it.

Abby Hayes: You’re a pretty highly qualified professional. That’s crazy.

Olasumbo Alayande: Right. I have a master’s in mathematical science.

Abby Hayes: Yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: I could go out and find a full time job. I could do that, but I also have to consider it’s not just the tuition, but I also have to pay for extended care in the morning and in the afternoon. So, I’m looking at over $70,000 in tuition. I can’t afford that.

Abby Hayes: Sure, no way.

Olasumbo Alayande: For all seven children, there’s no way! So, Step Up has done a lot for me. This is our second year receiving Step Up. This is our second year. I’ve already been pre-qualified for next school year, so that would be our third year.

Abby Hayes: Great.

Olasumbo Alayande: But, as long as the government continues to award us Step Up, my children will have the opportunity to receive higher level education, and at the same time, more rigorous education. But, at the same time, be able to come to school and feel safe.

Because, when they were in the other schools, it was always one fight or the other. It is taking away from my children from being able to learn in their classroom. But here, at this school, there is no fights, there is no reprimanding going on, it’s all learning. It’s all education. That’s exactly what I want my children to go to school for. So, Step Up has provided that for me and my family.

I will continue to be grateful for Step Up, because, again, without Step Up, I would not have been able to afford private school for my children.

Abby Hayes: Sure.

I’m curious if you and your husband come from a Catholic background, and how that factored into you decision, one way or the other?

Olasumbo Alayande: No, we did not. You see, we are Christian. We are non-denominational Christians.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: I believe that my … I could have chosen other private schools, but a Catholic school has values, and they have their own ways of doing things. When I say they have their own ways of doing things, they have structure. So, that structure is very important in a child’s life. When a child is given the opportunity to do whatever he or she wants at such a young age, we may not be able to guide them the way that we want to guide them. But when a child knows that they have rules, there are consequences, and there is a structure that I have to follow, then it’s basically a life skill. That they have to get. That they have to learn. That there’s structure for everything.

So, when I came to a Catholic school that was the first thing I was looking for. I was looking for structure so that my children can follow a structured environment, nothing to deviate from. That’s number one.

Number two, it’s a Christian background, and I also want them to learn about religion while they’re in school. Those are the two things that I looked at when I picked out a Catholic school. Like I said, I had options of going to other private schools that are not Catholic. But, Catholic schools have structure, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.

Abby Hayes: Sure, that makes sense.

So, are all seven of your children in school now? Are they all school-aged?

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. Except the younger one, the baby, he’s two.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: Gonna be two and a half in a few months. But he will also be attending Christ the King pre-school, Pre-k 2 in February when he turns two and a half.

Abby Hayes: Very nice.

Olasumbo Alayande: So, he’s following the pattern of his siblings. He’s the only one I’m actually paying tuition for right now.
Abby Hayes: Okay. That’s what I was gonna ask.

Olasumbo Alayande: The one right next to in front of him, he’s in Pre-Kk 4, and he received VPK, this year.

Abby Hayes: Oh, okay. Okay. So, is that-

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes.

Abby Hayes: Is that a separate scholarship from the tax-credit scholarship? Do you know? Just curious.

Olasumbo Alayande: It’s a separate type of scholarship.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: It’s called VPK, Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program. It’s only awarded to children, regardless of income level, it’s only awarded to children who are four years old in pre-K 4.

Abby Hayes: Sure, that makes sense. Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes.

Abby Hayes: So, was this his first year in that program then?

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes, because this is his first year. So, next year he will be in kindergarten, and he’s already been awarded scholarship for next year through Step Up.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Yeah, so, what has the application process been like for qualifying for the Tax Credit Scholarship and staying with it?

Olasumbo Alayande: Because I’m a very detailed person, I can only speak my experience. The fact it, it was very easy. It was very simple. The most important thing is being able to have all your documentation in order before you apply. So, that when you apply, and it tells you to upload certain documents, you already have them. But, if you don’t have them, and you apply, the application process still gives you the opportunity to turn in the application, the paperwork, the supporting documents for the application. But, because, like I said, I have seven children, and all my paperwork always in order, in one binder, so when I apply I was able to just finish the application within the hour.

For, re-application, it took me less than 30 minutes, because everything was already uploaded as soft copies on my computer.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

So, for the re-application, are they just checking for income and where your children are school? What kinds of information are they looking for?

Olasumbo Alayande: Basically, the re-application, it’s like doing it all over again.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: But, even though they have the information of the children that we are currently awarded, if you are adding, like I have to add my

Kindergarten son, who’s gonna be in Kindergarten next year, because he was not in Step Up this year, so I have to add him, but other than that, they already have the information about the other five children. Though they do, they still request certain things, like income pay stubs, proof of residency, physical and immunization records.

Abby Hayes: Okay, that makes sense.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yeah. It’s just an update of the information. But they already have the information about the children, and what school they go to, and what grade-level they will be going into. Because, the application process is very smooth, really.

Abby Hayes: Yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: It’s not difficult at all.

Abby Hayes: Okay. That’s good.

How far do you guys live from the school?

Olasumbo Alayande: Oh my goodness, I live, I would say five minutes from the school.

Abby Hayes: Oh! That’s perfect! I was gonna ask if transportation is an issue, but apparently not. That’s wonderful.

Olasumbo Alayande: Right. I live five minutes away from Christ the King, but for my oldest, I live about 15 minutes away from her school.

Abby Hayes: Okay. Do you just take her and drop her off every day, and pick her up?

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. There’s no way I would have been able to afford transportation for her. But, another thing that I wanted to say about her school is that even though I receive Step Up, they also gave me financial aid.

Abby Hayes: Really? Wow.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. So, her $13,000 tuition came down to apart from the registration and the iPad fee, came down to $945 that I have to pay.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: But, the iPad fee was $265 and the registration as $1,200. So, I had to pay $1,465 to apply for the school, and then $945 before school starts, which was the left over. Because they awarded my daughter $3,800 extra scholarship from the Catholic School System.

Abby Hayes: Wow!

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. Christ the King did that as well, because Step Up does not pay full tuition.

Abby Hayes: Okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: So, Christ the King wiped out the rest of it.

Abby Hayes: That’s great.

Olasumbo Alayande: I don’t have to pay a dime, yes.

Abby Hayes: That’s great.

Olasumbo Alayande: I don’t have to pay a dime. The only person that I paid for at Christ the King was my Pre-K4 son, because VPK only pays until 11:30 in the morning. So we have to pay extended until 3:00 PM. That’s it.

Abby Hayes: I see, okay.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes. So, that amount I would say, it may be a lot for me, but it’s very small compared to what I started with.

Abby Hayes: Sure.

Olasumbo Alayande: Like I told you, tuition is over $70,000 for me, every year.

Abby Hayes: Yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: Every year.

Abby Hayes: Wow.

Olasumbo Alayande: And I end up paying maybe $5,000 to $10,000 out of pocket for that, out of that.

Abby Hayes: Okay. Between all of the kids. Wow.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes, between all the kids. Maybe $10,000 yes. A year.

Abby Hayes: That’s amazing.

Olasumbo Alayande: That’s amazing. Yes, it is.

Abby Hayes: Yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: I will, every … And I tell my husband every year, “You know what? I’m so grateful for Step Up, because without Step Up, my kids would not have the opportunity to come to a very good, private, Catholic school.”

Abby Hayes: Yeah.

Olasumbo Alayande: It would be impossible. Because, no matter how much work, I have to literally go out and work eight to five, Monday through Friday, to be able to just pay tuition. That’s it.

Abby Hayes: Yeah. Yeah.

So, how are your children doing now that they’ve switched? Are they really enjoying it themselves?

Olasumbo Alayande: Yes! They are doing awesome! My oldest daughter, she is a member of Kenny’s Angels. These are girls in the school that volunteer around the school all year. She is also in chorus class, and they sing at the masses, when they do mass at the church, in the school. They also sing carols all around town-

Abby Hayes: Oh, fun!

Olasumbo Alayande: … they will be at St. John’s Town Center tomorrow singing Christmas carols. She’s very involved. She’s very talented in music. So she’s very involved in the school, in that way. She loves it. She’s very comfortable with the setting.

My child number two, who is in middle school here at Christ the King, he is involved in softball. He is a straight A student at the school. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to brag, but he scored the highest score in their test that they took this year in March. He scored the highest. He was in the 99th percentile. Okay?

Abby Hayes: That’s awesome!

Olasumbo Alayande: They’re doing very well. They’re always involved in the programs, the Christmas programs that they set up every year.

My twins, even though they’re getting used to the school, they love the school. One of my twins had a little bit of challenge with reading, now she’s reading at the first grade level. I mean, she is doing very well.

My pre-k 4 student, my son who’s in pre-k 4, he is reading in second grade level, but he’s in pre-k 4.
They’re very … My children are very talented, and very academically talented children.

Abby Hayes: Yeah, yeah, it sure sounds like it.

Olasumbo Alayande: I’m very happy … Yes. I’m very happy that they have the opportunity to be among their peers, and they have the opportunity to be in a class … This environment where they don’t have to be afraid that somebody’s gonna bully them, or beat them up, because bully is not tolerated in any Catholic school system. They reprimand, and I’m very happy about that. They don’t rub somebody on the head, or pat them on the hand and say, “Don’t worry. Don’t do it again.” No, they reprimand, and I’m very happy about that.

Abby Hayes: Good, good.

Well, I’m glad you’ve had such a great experience. That’s wonderful to hear.

Olasumbo Alayande: Yeah, thank you.

Abby Hayes: Well, we really appreciate your time today. Is there anything else that you would like for us to know about your School Choice experience?

Olasumbo Alayande: The only thing that I would like you to know is that I just pray that this scholarship will continue to be available to families such as me, because when I was growing up, my parents used to tell me that education is the most important thing in life. Once you have an education you can achieve whatever you want to reach. Nothing can stop you.

So, my belief is that if my children can get the basic education, the basic education … When I say basic, I mean finish high school with a good score, or a good GPA, or good SAT so that you can proceed to college, then the sky is your limit. But, if you don’t have a good education, a good background, you struggle through life. That’s just the way it is. So, I’m happy that Step-Up has given me and my children the opportunity to be able to achieve that.

Thank you.

Abby Hayes: Yeah. Thank you so much.

Olasumbo Alayande: You’re welcome.

Abby Hayes: Thanks for spending some time with us here on EdChoice Chats. Remember to subscribe on Sound Cloud, iTunes, or Stitcher Radio. Follow us on social media @edchoice and be sure to sign up for email updates on our website at www.edchoice.org.

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