More than 1,000 nonpublic school students from throughout the state of Maryland descended on Annapolis for Nonpublic Schools Advocacy Day on March 12 to advocate for issues affecting nonpublic schools, such as the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Scholarship Program and nonpublic school safety, textbook and aging schools programs.

The BOOST Scholarship Program, which is now in its fourth school year, provides scholarships to low-income students to attend the nonpublic school of their choice. Governor Larry Hogan proposed to increase BOOST funding to $10 million this year, but the Maryland House has cut that budget proposal to just $5.5 million, which is significantly less than the $7.6 million that the program was given last year.

Those scholarships are important to students like Cindy Sarceno, a junior at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park. Sarceno’s parents, who are from El Salvador, never went to school, but she is determined to become a first generation college student and go on to have a career in sports management.

“I had to change the whole standard,” she said, noting that she serves as a role model for her siblings. “I want to do something.”

After meeting a student who attended Don Bosco Cristo Rey, she decided that transferring to that school from public school would help her achieve her goals, and the BOOST scholarship made that possible.

“The BOOST scholarship is what made my life complete,” she said. “BOOST is the reason I have the opportunities I have now.”

At Don Bosco Cristo Rey, 85 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, and 100 percent of their students are accepted to college. It also has a corporate work-study program, which both helps the students pay for their education and provides them with valuable work experience. With the knowledge she has gained both at school and on her own, Sarceno is now in charge of paying all of the bills for her family.

While meeting with a staff member of Senator Will Smith, a Democrat representing District 20 in Montgomery County, Sarceno said she likes that at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, “I have a lot of people I can turn to.”

Students from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park meet with a staff member of Senator Will Smith, a Democrat representing District 20 in Montgomery County. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

At the rally to start off the day, students enthusiastically cheered, “We love our schools, yes we do! Safety, textbooks, options too!” and Governor Larry Hogan joined the crowd to encourage the students to advocate for BOOST.

“BOOST is such a great program,” he said. “It has given so many kids the opportunities to go to schools like yours.”

Though he told the kids they could have fun and enjoy learning about the state of Maryland, he also told them, “Today you have an important job,” to talk to the legislators and encourage them to support BOOST and other programs.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, the president of Maryland CAPE (Council for American Private Education), said advocating for nonpublic schools is “a shared mission” because religious education is “so important to our families,” whether they are Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, or practice another faith.

Bill Ryan, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, reminded the students to also say, “thank you” to the legislators for the funding that the schools have already benefited from. The students all had “thank you” cards that they could fill out and give to their legislators when they met with them.

Participants from St. Ambrose School in Cheverly, for example, spoke to a staff member of Senator Malcolm Augustine, a Democrat representing District 47 in Prince George's County, about how the aging schools program has helped them make improvements to their 75-year-old facility such as new, more secure entrance doors, new windows, and new mats for the gym walls.

Brian Radziwill, the director for government programs and grants for the Archdiocese of Washington's Catholic Schools Office, noted, “Our schools are grateful for the textbook and aging school building grants, which for many years, have provided direct cost savings for families on the costs of school books and technology, and allowed older schools to implement capital improvements that enhance the delivery of educational programs.”  

St. Francis International School in Silver Spring also used a grant from the Aging Schools Program when they recently renovated the school’s Camilla Room. And in the 2017-2018 school year, 67 students at St. Francis International School received BOOST scholarships. 

Evangeline Cobbold, a fifth grade student at St. Francis, is a BOOST scholarship recipient this year. Before the group met with Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, a Democrat representing District 20, Cobbold said she liked attending St. Francis because, “everyone is encouraging everyone…people stand up for other people.”

Students learn about Maryland history from “Squire Fred" as they visit the Old State House Rotunda. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Michelle Mazzara, an eighth grade student at St. Andrew Apostle School in Silver Spring, similarly said she likes her Catholic school community, and is “really close with everyone in my class.”

“I enjoy going to school,” she said.

Booke Frederick, a seventh grade student at St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel, said, she enjoys attending Catholic school because “I like to learn about Jesus…I love religion class.”

Amy Vasquez, a 10th grade student at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, said attending the Catholic high school helps her and her fellow students “improve our relationships with God.”

Vasquez said she felt it was important for them to be at Nonpublic Schools Advocacy Day because, in this case, “our perspective is more valued than the adult perspective…we are the ones who attend the school and know what we need.”

Students from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda cheer as their classmate answers a question about Maryland trivia. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Democrat representing District 23 in Prince George’s County whose kids attended St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie, further encouraged the students to make their voices heard, telling them that doing so helps delegates to do their job well.

“Today you have come to talk to your government,” she said. “It is one of the most important things for you to do…not just today, but for the rest of your lives.”

Garrett O'Day, the deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said this year's nonpublic school advocacy day was great because of the number of appointments students had with legislators. 

“It's really important to them to interact directly with senators, delegates and staff, particularly since this is the first year of a new four-year term and there are around sixty new legislators," he said. “It goes a long way toward legislators' understanding of how great our schools are, who the students are that they serve, and why they should invest in those students and our schools.”