coronavirus

Advocates Ensuring Kids’ Catholic Education in COVID-19 Era

WINDSOR TERRACE — A parent who has lost a job due to a company shutdown in the era of COVID-19 has tough choices to make every day. Many people are having a difficult time paying the bills, and if they’re facing the choice between putting food on the table and paying tuition at their child’s Catholic school, “we all know tuition will not be the first thing,” said Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello.

Msgr. Gigantiello, the vicar for development for the Diocese of Brooklyn and a driving force behind Futures in Education, said there is a way to save parents from having to make that heart-wrenching choice.

Futures in Education, the organization that provides assistance to Catholic school students and parents, has started an emergency relief fund to offer financial help for unemployed parents who suddenly find themselves struggling to pay their child’s tuition.

“We want to keep them in our schools,” Msgr. Gigantiello told The Tablet.

In a sign of how great the need is out there, Futures in Education has already been inundated with applications from more than 1,000 financially stressed families seeking financial aid. The requests for assistance from financially strapped families add up to $1.5 million. “I know that’s going to grow,” said Msgr. Gigantiello, who is the pastor of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg.

Msgr. Gigantiello expressed confidence that the relief fund can be replenished. He pointed out that administrators at Futures in Education have stayed in touch with the organization’s major donors since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. “We called our donors as soon as the crisis started. People really step up to the plate when needed. People always rise to the occasion,” he said.

Futures in Education has also started reaching out to various foundations to seek grants.

The Diocese of Brooklyn has more than 20,000 students in its elementary schools and academies.

Rosanna Guzman — whose two children, Marcos and Lianna Lopez, are students at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy in Ozone Park — lost her job as a travel consultant at the end of March and is seeking help from Futures in Education to make tuition payments.

“This is the first time I’ve experienced being laid off,” Guzman told The Tablet. The tuition assistance she will be getting from the emergency relief fund is meaningful to her. “It helps enormously,” she said. Guzman is eager for her children to get the benefit of a Catholic education. “I want a great education for them,” she said.

Her son was in a public school for kindergarten, she recalled. Public school “was very difficult for me,” she said, adding that there was a lack of discipline and that Marcos was bullied in kindergarten.

The desire parents have to ensure a Catholic education for their children is partly fueled by revealing statistics showing the outstanding academic success of Catholic schools.

Students in the Diocese of Brooklyn regularly outperform their public school counterparts in standardized tests in English Language Arts and Math. For example, 54.7% of fourth-graders in diocesan schools performed at or above grade level in English Language Arts while the public school rate was 49.6%, according to the most recent test figures.

In Math, 51.3% of Catholic school fourth-graders tested at or above grade level while the figure for public school children in the same grade was 49.1 percent.

An impressive 99% of Catholic high school students in the U.S. graduate within four years, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. New York City public high schools had a four-year graduation rate of 75.9% in 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced last year.

It’s too soon to tell how remote learning, where students are stuck at home working on computers instead of sitting in the classroom, will affect academic achievements and test scores.

Marcos Lopez said he doesn’t mind remote learning because he is still able to keep in touch. “We stay in touch with the teachers,” he said. But he doesn’t like not seeing his friends or the fact that he is given more homework, he commented.

Futures in Education, which was established in 1989 and provides tuition assistance to low-income families in Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens, has awarded scholarships to 32,000 students over the past 31 years.

DeSales Media Group, the parent company of The Tablet, donates $2.5 million to Futures in Education each year.

The median annual income of families who have received help is $28,000 a year with 31% percent of the families living below the poverty line.

To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.

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