Located on West Ruby Avenue in Milwaukee, Atonement Lutheran School is a gem whose luster first emerged during the gloomy 1920s. Nearly a century later, it is still proudly providing a faith-based education to 210 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Stephen Schafer, Atonement’s principal for the past 24 years, said 54 percent of the school’s students currently benefit from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program for low-income families—and he predicts more families will qualify with the souring economy.
Created in 1990, the MPCP is the nation’s oldest school choice program. It currently provides vouchers to more than 20,000 low-income Milwaukee students to attend one of 127 participating private or religious schools citywide at no charge.
For Dionne Ojeda, the MPCP was a godsend.
Before 2001 she worked three jobs to pay for her children’s private school tuition—but then a hip replacement kept her from her job as a lab technician and led her to apply for assistance from the MPCP for her three eldest children.
“It was really perfect timing. Atonement became an MPCP school in 2001, right as I had to quit my jobs,” Ojeda said. “I had already tried other schools, both public and private, for my oldest son and knew that I had to keep all [my kids] at Atonement.”
Ojeda currently has a kindergartener and seventh grader at Atonement, the school she chose for all four of her children based on its diverse student population and faith-based curriculum. Ojeda’s oldest son is currently in his second year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he is a premed major with a 4.0 GPA. Her 16-year-old daughter uses an MPCP scholarship to attend Wisconsin Lutheran High School.
“I really value Atonement for the strong parent involvement,” Ojeda said. “Aside from communicating with children’s teachers, I am also the art assistant, cheerleading coach, and volleyball coach, while still maintaining a career as a social worker.”
Atonement offers volleyball, cross-country, basketball, wrestling, baseball, and track, plus piano and band. The school also has two student choral groups and a handbell choir.
Ojeda compliments the teachers’ genuine dedication to meeting their students’ needs. She and her children all have the teachers’ cell and home phone numbers and email addresses, for after-hours homework assistance.
Jillian Metz ([email protected]) writes from Florida