Tsion Abera and her younger brother Meckias are both D.C. Opportunity Scholarship students, attending St. Anthony School in Northeast Washington. The family emigrated from Ethiopia. Tsion said without the scholarships, they could not afford to attend Catholic school.
Tsion Abera and her younger brother Meckias are both D.C. Opportunity Scholarship students, attending St. Anthony School in Northeast Washington. The family emigrated from Ethiopia. Tsion said without the scholarships, they could not afford to attend Catholic school.
Most nights 13-year-old Tsion Abera tucks her younger brother Meckias into bed before falling asleep herself.

Her parents, who are refugees from Ethiopia, work long hours and are hardly ever home, said Abera, who is a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship student and an eighth grader at St. Anthony's School in Washington. Abera's family fled their native country during the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They lived in Great Britain for several years before settling in the United States five years ago.

"I admire my mom and dad ... I don't believe I could do what they are doing," Abera said.

The family of four now lives in an apartment in Northeast Washington provided by Mary House, an organization that offers housing for homeless and struggling families. Abera said she made half of the apartment's living room into her own bedroom.

The pastor of St. Anthony's Parish and School, Father Frederick Close, wrote a letter about Abera that said "from the crucible of suffering comes tested character ... Tsion is friendly, honest, hard working, enthusiastic and involved."

But facing hardships might not be over for Abera, who could lose her D.C. Opportunity Scholarship just before entering Catholic high school next fall. Recent congressional action calls for an end to the scholarship program after the 2009-2010 school year unless it is formally reauthorized. The scholarship program, passed by Congress as a pilot program five years ago, gives low-income families the ability to choose a non-public school for their children by providing them with monetary assistance of up to $7,500 for each child.

Without this scholarship, Abera said there is no way her parents could afford to send her to Catholic high school - her father is a taxicab driver, and her mother works at a General Nutrition Centers store. Abera's second-grade brother Meckias, who also attends St. Anthony's School on an Opportunity Scholarship, would be forced to attend a neighborhood school without the scholarship.

"They (congressional representatives) really don't know how hard people have been working, and what their situation is," Abera said.

Abera, whose family are all Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, is sad the Opportunity Scholarship Program might be eliminated, because she has formed a new family and learned more about what it means to be Christian at her Catholic school.

"St. Anthony's is more of a family than just students coming to learn. It's unified. Students are like brothers and sisters, and the teachers are like parents," she said.

She said the program's bleak future is also frustrating because she worked and studied hard at St. Anthony's so she could be prepared for and accepted into Catholic high school. Just as her parents have in their new homeland, Abera has worked hard to build a new life and a new future for herself. She makes honor roll every quarter, and she participates in after school Spanish, book club, yearbook, flag football, basketball, cheerleading, lacrosse, and Gospel choir.

"I really love what I have seen at Catholic School ... the academics are strong," she said.

Abera said before coming to St. Anthony's she wasn't a great student. "That wasn't a priority for me," she said.

But at the Catholic school her teachers made an effort to help her learn English, and she soon had the desire to work hard and succeed, she said.

One of her teachers, Michael Thomasian, said Abera is a "model St. Anthony's student ... She adds so much to the class, and the class would be at a loss without her."

Abera said she would like to attend either St. John's College High School or Archbishop Carroll High School next year. She said she has dreams of one day working as a doctor or a reporter.