Public school wasn't cutting it for Patricia Andrade's youngest son, Javier Andrade, who faces several challenges, including a processing disorder that makes it difficult for him to grasp everything teachers say.
The working mother had faced similar issues with the oldest of her three children, now 20, and was dissatisfied with the children's experiences in Fort Wayne Community Schools.
“Every day there was a problem,” she said, noting it got to the point Javier didn't want to go to school.
When she heard about vouchers, she jumped at the opportunity for him and her middle child, Eliasz Romano. The family has now used vouchers for about five years, enabling the boys to receive education from schools Andrade previously could not afford, she said. Javier is a seventh-grader at Lutheran South Unity School, and Eliasz is a freshman at Bishop Luers High School.
“My children have come so far in their education because of LSUS,” Andrade said. “The education at nonpublic is above all others.”
Located in south Fort Wayne near Luers, Lutheran South Unity offers a small student body; 174 students in grades K-8 were enrolled last year. It received a C for its state accountability grade in 2016-17, down from a B in the previous academic year.
Lawmakers require each school receive an accountability grade every year. The biggest factor is performance on the standardized test, though graduation rate and a few other data points are included.
Andrade commended the school for helping her children. Javier now gets upset if an illness forces him to miss a day, she said.
“... Even after my kids have finished one grade, the teacher is not done helping the student,” she said. “The teachers make sure the students understand the schoolwork and will go to any length to assist them to achieve this knowledge.”
The feeling of community goes beyond academics, she said. If she can't make it to her son's sporting event, she knows others will cheer him on and ensure he gets there and back.
“It's a personal approach,” Andrade said. “These people are like my family.”
Able to turnstudents around
Destina Brown was tired of her son's public school treating him like something was wrong with him.
Fort Wayne Community Schools kept trying to blame his poor grades on attention deficit disorder, but Brown said tests showed he didn't have it. Upset the school pushed the subject, she enrolled Ayden Brown-Voght, then a fifth-grader, in Horizon Christian Academy with the help of vouchers.
The North Wells Street school serves prekindergarteners to 12th-graders. Its enrollment last year was just shy of 500 students.
Now a seventh-grader, Ayden gets A's and B's and has made the honor roll twice, his mother said, noting he benefits from the more intimate environment, which facilitates more 1-on-1 teaching.
Before, she said, “he was failing everything except for art class. ... Now, he's so much happier.”
Just ask Ayden. At his former school, his favorite part of the day was lunch. At Horizon, he said, he likes science and math.
Other qualities separate Horizon from his previous school, he said. Students want to be at Horizon, he said, and teachers try to help students learn individually instead of moving on once most of the class understands the lesson.
Brown, who has no doubt Ayden will attend a good college, said she doesn't place much value in Horizon's low test scores and poor state accountability grade.
“I am not in the least bit worried about that,” she said.
Horizon hasn't received better than a D since it began receiving accountability grades in 2013-14; its grade fell to an F for 2016-17. The percentage of students passing ISTEP+ has fallen from about 27 percent in 2014-15 to 7.4 percent in 2016-17.
It's unfair to judge Horizon on the education students received elsewhere, Brown said.
“They're turning these kids around,” she said.
Positive grades for city schools
With the exception of his sixth-grade year at Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy, a charter school, Omar Jackson is the product of Fort Wayne Community Schools.
The 17-year-old attended Fairfield Elementary School and Kekionga Middle School and is now a junior at South Side High School.
While some might know him through his participation in sports – he has played football, baseball and basketball and plans to try track – Jackson said he wants to be known for his kindness and work ethic.
His course load this year includes Advanced Placement psychology, he said, and he intends to enroll in other academically rigorous classes as he pursues an academic honors diploma.
“I want to be really ready for college,” he said.
South Side, which had about 1,400 students last school year, hasn't earned higher than a C for its state accountability letter grade. However, it has improved its graduation rate in the last decade, jumping from 69 percent in 2006-07 to 85 percent in 2015-16.
Jackson recognizes outsiders might have negative perceptions about the 95-year-old school that has many veteran teachers on staff. About 35 percent of teachers had more than 15 years of experience in 2015-16.
“I like it here,” he said.
In his experience, he said, teachers want students to learn and often offer additional help before or after school. “They all care about their students,” he said.