Nakisha Thompson has sent all four of her children to Catholic school, beginning with pre-kindergarten classes at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy in Washington, D.C. She chose this schooling for her children because she knows firsthand the benefit of such an education.

“I went to private school for three years until my mom couldn’t afford the tuition, and then I went to public school,” Thompson said. “I know the difference between the two educations.”

Thompson has been associated with St. Thomas More Catholic Academy for 14 years, since her eldest son, Deshean Hatton was a pre-kindergarten student there.

All four of Thompson’s children are D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) scholars and each has either graduated from St. Thomas More or is currently enrolled there.

Deshean, who graduated last year from Gonzaga College High School, is currently a freshman at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he is majoring in criminal justice with an eye to potentially going on to law school. At Gonzaga, he was an honors student, played the saxophone and was on the rugby team.

Sherman Hatton is a junior at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, who plans to major in business administration in college. Michael Hatton is an eighth grader at St. Thomas More and said he would like to follow in oldest brother Deshean’s footsteps and eventually study criminal justice. Keishai Hatton, Thompson’s youngest and only daughter, is a sixth grader at St. Thomas More who is undecided whether she wants a career in art or dance.

Congress on Dec. 19 reauthorized for four years the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which includes OSP. 

OSP – the only federally funded school voucher program in the nation – provides vouchers for low-income students to attend a school of their choice. OSP funds can be used at any schools participating in the program and may be used to pay for tuition, uniforms, books, and other school-related fees.

Among the schools that are chosen by OSP scholars are those that comprise the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a coalition four inner-city Catholic elementary schools in the District of Columbia: St. Anthony Catholic School, Sacred Heart School, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Academy, and St. Thomas More Catholic Academy.

“Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, I am able to provide a good education for my kids,” said Thompson, a single mother. “I go to work knowing they are safe, knowing they are learning, and knowing they are surrounded by good people.”

Deshean said his OSP-supported Catholic education, “helped with my social skills, my mental skills and my spiritual skills.”

Since he went to Catholic schools for all of his pre-college education, Deshean said that he can see the difference between a private and a public education by observing his college classmates.

“In my classes we do a lot of English – reading and writing,” he said. “It seems I had a better education. You can tell who went to public school by the way they write.”

He added that “for us to get here was not easy. It took saving here, stretching there. It was definitely not a cakewalk.”

“It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to provide them with this kind of education, and I am proud – very, very proud – of them,” Thompson said. “A good education is an opportunity that is not just given to you. You have to work hard.”

Pointing to her four children, she said, “these four heartbeats right here are my biggest investments, and the best tool I could give them for the future is a good education.”

She said making sure her children get the best education possible “is a huge sacrifice, but it is a choice that I will put before anything else.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides a chance for kids who want to do something with their lives,” Deshean said. “A quality education is very beneficial.”

Since its inception in 2004, the voucher program has awarded 10,701 scholarships to kindergarten through 12th grade students. The average annual income for families receiving Opportunity Scholarship Program scholarships is just over $23,200. Nearly three-quarters of scholarship recipients are African American, and more than 17 percent are Hispanic. The high school graduation rate of participating students is 95 percent, and 87 percent go on to a two- or four-year college or university.

Sherman said he was grateful for the education he has received because a Catholic education “inspires me to be a better student and a better person. I have learned to help other people, not just think about myself.”

Michael said he values his “learning experience” at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy because “the teachers here care for my education.”

Keishai said her interest in art and dance was inspired by her education at St. Thomas More.

“Learning is different here in a really great way than from other schools,” she said. “We have teachers here who care about us and love us.”

Gerald Smith Jr., principal of the school, said,“The Opportunity Scholarship Program gives kids a chance to find out they have a lot of intelligence and a lot of value, and it gives them a chance to go to a school where they can use their potential.”

He noted that OSP participants are referred to as scholars because “scholars are people – young or adult – who actively seek education and who appreciate education.”

Congress’s reauthorization of the program “gives kids who are often overlooked a sense of pride that can push them forward,” Smith said. “The scholars know there is a cohort of people – some they know and some they have never seen before – who are rooting for their future.”

Thompson, referring to the old proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” said she is “proud of the village we have here” at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy.

“We know that when we leave (our education), it will be all up to us how we live,” Deshean said. “Private school teaches you to be responsible, because they value people and they want you to be good people.”

Praising OSP, Thomson called it “a program that needs to reach other cities and other places.”

“I want to be an advocate for this program because this really helps people,” she said.