When Janine Dowden packed up her belongings and permanently moved herself and her daughter, Micah Dowden, to the United States from Grenada in 2017, finding a school that continued the Catholic education Micah received in Grenada was at the top of her priorities. As a single mother who works full-time and cares for her retired mother, the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) scholarship opened up a door Dowden thought would be impossible to open. 

“It’s really been a godsend, to have that financial help,” she said. “We depend on BOOST. It gives us an opportunity for our kids that we didn’t have. Parents do depend on it.” 

BOOST provides scholarships to Maryland students who qualify for free and reduced meals to attend the school of their family’s choice. Nearly 3,100 scholarships were awarded for the 2019-20 school year, yet hundreds of students still remain on a waitlist. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a nearly $3,000 increase in BOOST scholarship funds for the 2020-21 school year, pending a vote from the State Senate and House of Delegates. 

After living with family members in the United States for a few years after Micah was born, Dowden and Micah returned to Grenada where they saw firsthand the value of a Catholic education. Micah attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Grenada, where Dowden also went as a young girl. Both Micah and Dowden saw the cohesiveness of the families in the school as a blessing. After placing 108th out of 15,000 students for the Grenada high school placement exam, Micah enrolled in St. Joseph’s Convent High School. 

“You think ‘you’re in a third world country, you don’t know anything,’ but no. We learned,” Micah said of the high-quality Catholic education she received in Grenada. 

When immigration paperwork Dowden’s mother filed for Dowden and Micah nine years prior finally arrived in 2017, “I packed up Micah, our two dogs and everything,” Dowden said. “The opportunities are better here.”

The high cost of living in Grenada as well as the prospect of moving closer to family, who had nearly all moved to the United States, made the transition feasible. 

But as Dowden was initially looking at the public schools, she was drawn back to the Catholic education that she and her daughter received in Grenada. 

“There are really good public schools, but (at a Catholic school) it just makes a difference,” she said. 

Dowden’s family in Hyattsville had attended St. Jerome Church for years, so St. Jerome Academy seemed a great fit for a mid-year transition. And as BOOST became an option for their family, Dowden was floored. 

“You can’t quantify the impact (of BOOST),” she said.

Dowden has personally spoken to Maryland lawmakers, including Del. Michael Jackson and Sen. Melony Griffith, advocating for BOOST.

As Micah transferred from the school system in Grenada to St. Jerome Academy, she noticed that “everything is so different here (in America).” 

But after figuring things out, Micah quickly moved up to getting second and third honors in her class. 

“I got up there pretty quickly,” she said, crediting the help of her eighth grade teacher, Thomas Ballenger. 

“He’s the type of person that believes in you, even when you don’t,” Micah said.

After graduating from St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Micah now attends Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg and is a freshman. 

In high school, Micah is a member of the photography club and she just recently joined the crew team – hoping one day for a college scholarship. 

Of her teachers at Elizabeth Seton, Micah said, “they make you want to learn.”

Looking ahead, Micah sees an open future, she said. 

“I want to be something big, maybe the president… or real estate, or architecture,” she said. “I can see myself designing something in my future… starting small, getting big and making a difference.” 

“I just want to be able to make a difference,” Micah said.