“Sometimes I would go to school and have lunch with him,’’ Welcome recalled. “I would find him upset. He was getting in trouble for not being able to sit still after he had completed his work.’’
Welcome met with administrators and they agreed Ryan was bright, even testing him for the gifted program. When they told her he didn’t qualify, Welcome enrolled Ryan in a new local charter school. But it wasn’t run well, she said, so she returned Ryan to his old neighborhood school.
“Third grade starts with the same issues,’’ Welcome said. “Again, I ask for him to be tested for gifted and again they tell me he shows no signs.’’
It took her awhile, but the hair salon receptionist set aside the $400 it cost to have her son tested privately. This time, he qualified. His mother wanted to look at private schools for sixth grade, but Ryan begged to stay with his friends.
“Against my better judgment, I gave in,’’ she said.
Within the first month of middle school, Ryan was being harassed by other students and got into a fight. It went downhill from there, Welcome said, prompting her to transfer him to another charter school where he finished eighth grade.
“Academically, they weren’t as challenging,’’ she said, “but it was a better environment.’’
With Ryan heading to high school, Welcome wanted a different learning experience for him. A school where kids wanted to get their education. She set her sights on Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory, a 550-student Catholic high school in Hollywood devoted to academics and spiritual growth.
Tuition seemed out of reach until she discovered she could afford it with help from Step Up For Students. The nonprofit helps manage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which provides low-income families with financial assistance toward tuition at participating private schools. Ryan received the scholarship starting in ninth grade.
“What a blessing that was,’’ Welcome said. “What an unbelievable gift. As a single mom, to be able to put my son in a positive environment … To let him learn and focus on learning seemed too good to be true. But it happened.’’
Ryan didn’t get into trouble or get bored anymore like he did at his old schools. And Chaminade-Madonna administrators were skilled at motivating him and nurturing his love for learning.
“They definitely cared more about your grades,’’ said Ryan, who graduated in May with an overall GPA of 3.51. “It was a huge change.’’
His coursework, which included Advanced Placement and honors classes, was tough, he said. But teachers like Patrick Heffernan, who taught Ryan honors English, inspired him to go above and beyond.
“We’re more of a village than a city,’’ Heffernan said. “Everybody here is more than just a name. It’s a community.’’
Heffernan credits the school’s Catholic influence and its close-knit learning environment. He grew up attending big Broward County district schools – and some kids do fine at such schools, he said. Others can get swallowed up. They need a more supportive atmosphere where they can be recognized as individuals.
It worked for Ryan. The former varsity high school basketball player earned a Bright Futures Scholarship and the President’s Silver Scholarship from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, where he’s a college freshman today pledging for a fraternity and planning to study architecture.
“He is very bright,’’ Heffernan said. “Very gifted creatively and socially. Ryan is definitely a success.’’
Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story? Please contact Sherri Ackerman, public relations manager, at sackerman@StepUpForStudents.org
About Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory:
At Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory, students in grades nine through 12 participate in a learning environment geared toward producing college graduates.
Founded in 1960 in the Marianist tradition, the Catholic school in Hollywood strives to develop the “whole student’’ with spiritual, emotional and educational instruction, said Patrick Heffernan, who has taught at Chaminade-Madonna for 19 years.
Academically, Catholic schools do a good job with average students, he said. But Chaminade-Madonna seeks to meet student needs across the continuum with programs that serve learners from the highest-achieving to those struggling.
The majority of graduates continue their education at a variety of colleges and universities, from Broward Community College in South Florida to Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Others go on to enlist in the military or enroll in vocational schools or service academies.
Chaminade-Madonna provides a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1. Instruction focuses on a challenging curriculum with 18 Advanced Placement courses and another 14 through dual enrollment with the private St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.
Other programs include Chaminade Scholars, which offers demanding coursework to keep the top-performing students engaged. The Learning Center accommodates students diagnosed with learning exceptionalities by providing extra help such as preferential seating or more time for assignments and testing.
In addition, students also can participate in spiritual retreats and help mentor classmates. There are honor societies for different subjects, such as art, French and science. Athletics play a significant role in the lives of students at Chaminade-Madonna, with teams for football, soccer, dance, volleyball, golf and cross-country among others.
Of the 550 students enrolled in the 2015-16 school year, 76 receive the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students, said Kristi Tucker, director of guidance and the Learning Center. Tuition ranges from $9,645 to $11,295. Academic achievement is measured by the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).
Sixty-four percent of the school’s 44-member faculty have advanced degrees. Chaminade-Madonna is accredited by AdvancED (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on Accreditation).