LIMA — One local principal said comparing all of the education options available today is like comparing apples to oranges: Your selection is always going to come down to what you’re looking to get out of the choice.
With the help of programs such as the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund and the EdChoice Scholarship Program, which continue to become more and more opposed by public schools, the doors of private schools are starting to open to more families.
As Ohio celebrates National School Choice Week, families from Allen and surrounding counties will have the opportunity to take a deeper look into schools ranging from traditional public, public charter, private and homeschool options. For the first time, the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund, a privately funded organization that provides scholarships to need-based families with children in kindergarten through eighth grade, will be hosting a School Choice Fair from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima.
Ann Riddle, executive director for NOSF, said the group rolled out the School Choice Fair in its home base of Toledo last year and decided to not only bring it back this year but to extend it into the Lima area.
“We did it with such success last year in Toledo and thought it would be great to do another,” Riddle explained. “We have a number of kids using scholarships to attend different schools in Lima. There’s a fairly good-sized population down there.”
Riddle said the organization has 34 Allen County students and five Putnam County students on scholarships this year. It awarded a total of 620 scholarships for the 2019-2020 school year in northwest Ohio.
“School choice is important because when you’re picking a child’s education, you only get one chance. If you fail, you’re in trouble,” Riddle said. “As a mother of three kids, I know it’s important to pick an education that meets their needs and that they thrive in. Parents have to really take their time in that decision and not take it for granted.”
That decision all comes back to what each student and family needs, said Connie Niese, principal at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Ottawa. This week also marks Catholic Schools Week in the state.
“The whole community, we’re not in competition with each other because comparing schools is like comparing apples and oranges. Both have your daily requirements of fruit, but if you’re looking for Vitamin C, you’re going for an orange, not an apple,” Niese explained. “With public schools versus private, if you’re looking for a faith-filled education, then you’re going to go with your private school rather than public school. It’s all about what you’re looking for and how we fulfill those needs, and our public school (Ottawa-Glandorf schools) realizes that. It doesn’t feel like competition because we’re different by design. It’s all about what you’re looking for.”
With the idea of school choice continuing to expand, these “non-traditional” schools are turning to social media and open house events to draw in families. Area Catholic schools are also using Catholic Schools Week as a chance to celebrate their current members and get out in the community with service projects to help spread their awareness and message. That being said, Riddle thinks the most significant recruitment tactic remains word-of-mouth.
“I think social media plays a big role right now, but call me old-fashioned, the schools are utilizing families already enrolled,” she said. “Who better to tell a story than a family with their own success story? As far as education, one of the best proponents of schools are the parents.”
Sarah Pester attended St. Mary School in Leipsic and now has been a teacher there for 10 years. She has worked in Catholic schools for 13 years and said the focus on school choice has impacted Catholic schools immensely.
“I graduated here in 1998, and when I was going here, it was very unusual for any student to come here who was not Catholic,” Pester said. “I think it’s nice now because we have students from other districts and have several families who have students here that aren’t Catholic, but they’re happy with what we do in terms of having a small class size and trying to enrich students spiritually.”
Despite its growing attention, Kayla Nocera, director of enrollment marketing and alumni relations at Lima Catholic Schools said the idea of school choice is not new.
“Parents have been moving to access a different school district and have been using open enrollment both within their district and outside of it for a very long time,” she said. “We see parents who are not only actively involved in their child’s education but willing to make sacrifices in order to find a school or setting in which their child can thrive. If we are serious about closing achievement gaps and improving opportunities for children in this state, we should be supporting a variety of quality educational options.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.