Like most eight-year-olds, Abraham Larner is in third grade. His path to get there, though, has been quite a challenge.
At the end of first grade at his local public school in Murray, Utah, Abraham struggled with basic reading and math concepts, and his parents, Steve and Brenda, wanted him to repeat the grade. His teacher counseled that holding him back would damage his self-esteem, causing more educational problems than promoting him without knowing the material. Against their better judgment, Abraham’s parents heeded the teacher’s advice, and their son went on to second grade.
At the same time, however, they were looking for other choices. Although they eked out only a meager living on Steve’s full-time customer service income, they began exploring ways for Abraham to attend the Mount Vernon Academy, a private school in Murray.
Brenda asked the academy whether she could work at the school in exchange for his tuition. The staff said they didn’t have any positions available, but suggested she check with the Deseret Academy, another local private school. But her query to Deseret Academy was too late; they had just hired another mother in similar financial straits.
The Deseret staff did, however, give her a brochure from Children First Utah (CFU), from which she learned CFU offered half-tuition K-12 scholarships to low-income families like hers. The Larners submitted an application, but heard nothing for several months.
In the meantime, Abraham continued to struggle at school. For half of each day, he worked in resource classes with a teacher who simply gave him worksheets, then left him alone. When he arrived home each day, he was sad; other students pushed him and called him names.
Although his parents helped him with homework, at the end of second grade Abraham was still struggling with basic math and reading. Steve and Brenda again asked the school to let him repeat a grade. The school’s response stunned them; Abraham couldn’t repeat the grade because there were too many other students coming into that class.
Frustrated with their neighborhood school, and growing more and more concerned that Abraham wasn’t getting the education he needed, Steve and Brenda reapplied for a CFU scholarship. They received a response, but it came in the middle of their move to a new home. As is all too common during the maelstrom that is moving, the letter was lost.
A few weeks before Abraham was to begin third grade, in desperation the Larners called CFU. To their surprise, they learned of the lost letter, and that Abraham had qualified for a scholarship. They were overjoyed when they learned that because Abraham qualified, his younger brother and sister, Aaron and Rebecca, also qualified.
That joy was tempered, though. Even with the CFU scholarships, Steve and Brenda still had to find $1,350 per month to pay the other half of their children’s tuition. Brenda again offered to exchange work at Mount Vernon Academy for her children’s tuition. This time a position was available, and she took it. She now works as a janitor at the school, cleaning 10 bathrooms every day.
Abraham is succeeding at his new school. In classes with just six other students, his math and reading skills are improving rapidly. He enjoys science, is learning French, and will soon begin learning to play an instrument.
For her part, Brenda is grateful her many prayers have been answered. She does, though, wish the boys in the school would aim a little better.
M. Royce Van Tassell ([email protected]) is the executive director of Education Excellence Utah.