Parents like choice option, praise church-based school
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 February 1, 2013 5:36PM
Kindergarteners Lauren Roberson (center) and Amia Borders (left) join classmates in a dance as they celebrate National Choice in Education Week at Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary, Ind. Friday February 1, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2013 6:13AM
GARY — Sending their children to a faith-based school like Ambassador Christian Academy has been a good choice, say dads Thaddeus Carpenter and Garry Ward of Gary.
Both say their children are flourishing in a discipline-based school that’s overtly laced with Christian teachings.
Both Ward and Carpenter used state-financed Indiana Choice Scholarship vouchers to send their children to school to learn not only algebra, but to hear Bible stories about Jesus and his followers.
The 2011 voucher law led to a lawsuit now before the state Supreme Court that challenges its constitutionality.
On Friday, the dads sat in the audience as their daughters danced with other children and Principal Vercena Stewart to the “National School Choice Flash Dance.” The bouncy rendition marked the end of National School Choice Week celebrated at Ambassador and other schools across the state.
“I’m a single parent and I needed a smaller school for her, that’s more hands-on because I wanted her to be more grounded,” Ward said of daughter, Lyric, 13, who came to Ambassador in 2011.
Lyric came from a Gary charter school and Ward said the move was a big transition for her. “I’ll be on her because of grades and study habits, but they’re involved with how she’s carrying herself, how to be a lady and respect others,” he said.
Unlike Lyric’s previous school, Ward said he receives texts from her teachers updating him on her assignments and her grades.
“It’s not like they just teach a class and it’s over,” he said.
Carpenter has an 11-year-old daughter, Thailyn, at Ambassador, and a 10th-grade son at Andrean High School, which is one of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary schools. Carpenter likes the religious atmosphere at each school.
“We couldn’t afford it before because of the tuition ... Plus they’re teaching the Bible at both places. That’s the key to life right now.”
Stewart said the school is judged by the same academic criteria as public school peers. The large infusion of voucher students dropped the school’s report card grade from an A to a C last year.
Stewart said some junior high school students were so far behind they needed basic phonetic instruction from kindergarten teachers. Now, the school has stepped up personal instruction and offers help on Saturdays, too.
“We’ve implemented an instruction plan and we expect to get A’s again,” she said.
Indiana’s voucher program is considered the most expansive one in the nation. Some lawmakers hope to expand it further, eliminating a requirement in the 2011 law that all students spend at least a year in public schools before becoming eligible for a voucher for private school tuition. House Bill 1003 would end the waiting period.
Stewart says she plans to testify for the bill when it is heard in the House education committee later this month.
When the voucher program started in 2011, Ambassador, sponsored by Embassies of Christ Church, drew 110 students — more than any other school in Indiana.
This year, Stewart said there 156 of the school’s 325 students are using state vouchers funded by tax money. Subsidies range from $2,500 to more than $7,000, depending on a family’s circumstances.
Of the 270 schools accepting vouchers, the majority are church-based. More than 9,000 students are participating this year, doubling last year’s enrollment of 3,900 students.
Alexis Thigpen, 13, says she’s enjoying her first year at Ambassador after coming from a public school in Indianapolis.
“It was horrible there. There were fights and they don’t care about your education.”