Trump visits Catholic school in Florida to show school choice support

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Jean Gonzalez

Fla. (CNS) — Marcus Millien stood patiently as a teacher of St. Andrew School
straightened his black, yellow and white necktie.

wanted to make sure he looked his best since he would be presenting his
personal education story to the president of the United States.

daunting a prospect that might be for a teen, truth be told the teacher looked
more nervous than 16-year-old Millien, a junior at Bishop Moore High School in
Orlando and a graduate of St. Andrew.

a confident smile, Millien knew what he wanted to say during a roundtable
discussion about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program to President Donald

March 3, the president and other dignitaries toured the predominantly black
school in which 70 percent of students benefit from the school choice
scholarship program.

was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio,
R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a tour of the school that started
with a visit to a fourth-grade class. The visit, which was private, was dubbed
as a listening session.

a roundtable discussion, the president heard from parents, teachers and
students, including Millien.

son of a single mother who emigrated from Haiti as a refugee to the United
States, Millien didn’t use the forum to toot his own horn. Although his family
does not have the financial resources for him to attend private school without
a scholarship, the teen said he is a fortunate person.

mother struggled, but didn’t want me to have to struggle,” Millien said of the
reasons his mother chose to put him through Catholic school. “Here at St.
Andrew, I found a sense of community and people who cared for me and had my
best interests at heart.”

Wesley, 17, a fellow junior at Bishop Moore, agreed with Millien’s assessment
of St. Andrew. She also participated in the roundtable discussion and is a
graduate of St. Andrew.

community helped us put our best foot forward,” she said. “My father works very
hard to provide for our family, but without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have
been able to go to St. Andrew. My academics and my behavior (about school)
improved while I was here.”

high school graduation, both teens said they would attend college. Wesley has
aspirations in law and possibly politics. Millien hopes to play college
basketball while pursuing sports medicine or neurology. No matter what path
they pursue, they know their Catholic education will put them on the right

remember who helped you get where you are and who supported you ‘ and continue
to offer the values and support they gave you,” Millien said. “Remember you
wouldn’t be who you are without they support you had.”

words are exactly what brought Stephanie Jean-Jacques to serve as a teacher at
St. Andrew School for the past two years. The daughter of Haitian immigrants,
she had her share of bumps in the road as she attended West Orange High School
in Orlando and the University of South Florida in Tampa. She felt called to
serve as the school, in the heart of a lower-income area of Orlando.

am a proud Haitian, and I make it my priority to share my history of who I am
and where I came from,” Jean-Jacques said, recalling a moment in her first year
at St. Andrew when her students were surprised their teacher, a Haitian woman,
went to college and found success “It was an important to share that with the
children. That, yes, people just like them can succeed.”

said she witnesses firsthand the benefits of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
program, which is utilized by so many of her students. But the opportunities
don’t stop with the financial funding. As a teacher, she does all she can to
support her students and remind them two things: don’t give up and remember
where you came from. And the students abide by that understanding.

learned these students are driven, lovable. They are dreamers and talented, and
they have high hopes for success,” she said. “They truly strive for the goals
of college and heaven.”

two goals are something that is plastered all over the school, which in 2015
started a partnership with the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana,
to become one of 14 Notre Dame ACE Academies. This partnership is designed to strengthen
classroom instruction, enhance student enrollment practices and support optimal

to Theo Helm, director of communications for ACE, the Alliance for Catholic
Education, one aspect that dictates how an academy is chosen is parental choice.

are so proud of our partnership with the Orlando Diocese and with this school,”
Helm said, adding that three other schools in the nine-county diocese are ACE
academies. “It is so important that parents have a right to choose the best
education for their child.”

success of the parental choice program prompted the Orlando Diocese to invite Trump
to St. Andrew. With Secret Service on the premises, children had to process
through a makeshift, temporary metal detector to get to their classrooms. Orlando
Bishop John G. Noonan visited classes in the morning before the president’s
1:30 p.m. arrival. Streets were closed off around the school some time before
the visit.

president’s arrival was marked by an entourage of cars, including two stretch
limo SUVs, regular SUVs and vans. A gaggle of some 20 members of the press
huddled in the back of Jane Jones’ fourth-grade classroom just before the door
opened and Latrina Peters-Gipson, principal, escorted the president inside.

of the fourth-graders got up to greet the president and other dignitaries who
arrived, including Scott, Rubio and DeVos. The president’s daughter and
son-in-law — Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner – were also on hand.

president only stayed a few minutes, and shook a couple of students’ hands. He
smiled, commented to a few of the girls how beautiful their hair was, and
offered all the students the following advice: “You will all succeed because
you all work very hard.”

with the fourth-grade classroom, the president visited eighth graders before
heading to the library for the roundtable discussion. Although the press was
not invited to stay for the discussion, there were preliminary words heard
while cameras flashed.

Fortier, secretary for education and superintendent of Catholic schools for the
Orlando Diocese, said the discussion about school choice was both an exciting
and important opportunity.

know there is a lot of controversy about school choice, but I see it as a
partnership because it’s not a situation of us versus them but of a situation
of all of us working to provide opportunities for all parents so they have a
right to choose an education appropriate for their children,” he said. “It
shouldn’t be just for the wealthy.”

said 25 percent of students attending Catholic school in the diocese benefit
from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

what he said many times on the campaign trail, Trump said in his remarks that school
choice is “the new civil rights issue of our time.”

Herzog, associate for education for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops,
also was in on the roundtable discussion, which lasted some 20 minutes. He said
he hoped Congress will look to Florida as an example of how school choice
vouchers benefit students, families, educators and schools.

a state level, we really appreciate the school choice programs because it makes
Catholic education possible to low-income families,” he said.

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is editorial and online director at the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the
Diocese of Orlando.

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