School Choice Transforms Life for Wisconsin Mother, Daughters

Published April 25, 2014

You don’t have to invite 15-year-old Donnica Coleman to share her thoughts about school choice. She bubbles over about how her destiny has changed like the flip of a switch since she left her public middle school and entered Wisconsin’s voucher program.

“I wasn’t even an OK student,” she says unabashedly. “I was skipping class and had something like 100 truancies. I was an ‘F’ and ‘D’ student. I was always fighting.”

Lorice Wren, Donnica’s mother, nods in agreement.

“I never got called,” the 34-year-old says. “At the time, I was working a night shift and I was home during the day. No one ever called. I was furious by the end of the year.

“I was trying to teach one thing at home and another was happening at school,” says Lorice.

Stopping the Fighting
That was more than two years ago, when Donnica was attending a public middle school in Racine. Her little sister’s fervent desire to attend a private school changed their lives. Timia is four years younger than her big sister and was having her own problems in school.

“I got into a lot of fights, and my grandma and mom had to come get me,” Timia said. “My mom raised my sister and me to stand up for ourselves, and so if anyone bullied me, I would stand up and fight.”

Her mom says fighting was a frequent occurrence at the schools. “As a parent, we would be waiting to pick up our children and learn that whole classrooms were held late because of the number of fights happening in the school.”

Begged for Choice School
Timia begged her mother to send her to a private school after seeing a story about vouchers on the news. Now Timia is a sixth-grader at Concordia Lutheran School in Sturtevant, and her sister is a freshman at Racine Lutheran High School. They both are in their second year of the Parental Private School Choice Program in Racine.

“At Concordia, everything changed,” says Timia. “I understand things more clearly. The teachers deal with someone’s behavior. I got accepted. And I met my best friend, Amy. I love this school.”

Lorice agrees. Timia has more friends and better grades. She is on the honor roll.

“They teach a foundation I talk about at home and help them to resist peer pressure,” she adds.

Peer pressure is a real game-changer, nods Donnica.

“Before, I was with kids that didn’t want to learn,” she says of her old cluster of friends at McKinley. “But, when I got to private school, all of the students wanted to learn. They encouraged me to do my work. The teachers are on you—’You’re going to do this!'”

Hope for the Future
Not all the changes are academic.

“I used to sneak around with boys,” Donnica admits. “When I got to Concordia, my relationship with my mom got better. Now I tell her everything.”

Donnica began shifting her attitude during a summer program at a college, she says. The rest of the transformation came with a career day at Racine Lutheran High School, when she talked with an Air Force recruiter.

Seeing what college could be like, talking with a recruiter, and beginning to fathom a future fueled by higher education motivated Donnica. She is singularly focused now and made the honor roll.

Having a safe environment for her children allowed Lorice to grow as well. She had been working full-time and studying for a master’s degree part-time. Because she felt she needed to pay more attention to her girls, she didn’t expect to finish school until 2015.

But once the girls entered their new schools, Lorice says she could attend to her own education. She graduated from Concordia University and now is a substance abuse therapist in Milwaukee.

“I’m doing what I love,” she says about her new career, “and it’s all because I was able to put my children in a safe and nurturing environment so that they, too, could learn to do what they would love.”

Lisa Fix ([email protected]) is a development consultant for School Choice Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from SCW’s newsletter. Image by Judy Baxter.