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D.C.‌ ‌Opportunity‌ ‌Scholarship‌ ‌a‌ ‌'life‌ ‌changer' ‌for‌ ‌hard-working‌ ‌family‌

Martin Kimathi Kariithi and his wife, Scolastica Kimathi Kariithi, stand with two of their daughters, Rehem (left) and Imani (right) who attend St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, D.C. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

When‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌and‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kimathi‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌just‌ started settling in ‌the‌ ‌United‌ ‌States‌ ‌after‌ ‌immigrating‌ ‌from‌ ‌Kenya‌ ‌in‌ ‌2010,‌ ‌finding‌ ‌a‌ ‌school‌ ‌that‌ ‌would‌ ‌provide‌ ‌a‌ ‌quality‌ ‌Catholic‌ ‌education for‌ ‌their‌ ‌children‌ ‌was‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌their‌ ‌priority‌ ‌list.‌ ‌ ‌

Hearing‌ ‌about‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony‌ ‌Catholic‌ ‌School‌ ‌in‌ ‌Washington,‌ ‌D.C.,‌ ‌from‌ ‌a‌ ‌relative,‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌knew‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌place‌ ‌where‌ ‌her‌ ‌daughters‌ ‌would‌ ‌receive‌ ‌a‌ ‌“top-notch”‌ ‌education.‌ ‌ ‌

But‌ ‌then‌ ‌she‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌price.‌ ‌ ‌

“We‌ ‌were‌ ‌shocked,”‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said,‌ ‌noting‌ ‌how‌ ‌they‌ ‌had‌ ‌just‌ ‌moved‌ ‌from‌ ‌Kenya‌ ‌and‌ ‌were‌ ‌working‌ ‌to‌ ‌adjust‌ ‌to‌ ‌their‌ ‌new‌ ‌life‌ ‌in‌ ‌America.‌ ‌“But‌ ‌we‌ ‌wanted‌ ‌a‌ ‌good‌ ‌school.”‌ ‌ ‌

So‌ ‌taking‌ ‌as‌ ‌many‌ ‌jobs‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌could,‌ ‌they‌ ‌sent‌ ‌off‌ ‌their‌ ‌oldest‌ ‌daughter,‌ ‌Rehema‌ ‌Kimathi‌ ‌Kariithi,‌ ‌to‌ pre-kindergarten ‌4‌ ‌at‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌fall‌ ‌of‌ ‌2011.‌ ‌ ‌

“Much‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌burden‌ ‌was‌ ‌on‌ ‌my‌ ‌husband,‌ ‌who‌ ‌worked‌ ‌two‌ ‌jobs‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌ends‌ ‌meet,”‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said,‌ ‌adding‌ ‌that‌ ‌she,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌worked‌ ‌long‌ ‌hours‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌cover‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ ‌living‌ ‌and‌ ‌tuition.‌ ‌ ‌

Each‌ ‌year,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌family‌ ‌applied‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌D.C.‌ ‌Opportunity‌ ‌Scholarship‌ ‌Program‌ ‌(OSP),‌ ‌a‌ ‌tuition‌ ‌voucher‌ ‌program‌ ‌for‌ ‌low-income‌ ‌students‌ ‌to‌ ‌attend‌ ‌any‌ ‌school‌ ‌participating‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌program.‌ ‌But‌ ‌time‌ ‌and‌ ‌time‌ ‌again,‌ ‌their‌ ‌family‌ ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌receive‌ ‌the‌ ‌scholarship.‌ ‌ ‌

“We‌ ‌used‌ ‌to‌ ‌pray‌ ‌every‌ ‌night‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌OSP,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girls‌ ‌would‌ ‌pray‌ ‌the‌ ‌rosary‌ ‌every‌ ‌day‌ ‌with‌ ‌

their‌ ‌grandmother,”‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

When‌ ‌they‌ ‌got‌ ‌the‌ ‌notice‌ ‌that‌ ‌they‌ ‌would‌ ‌qualify‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌scholarship‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌2019-2020‌ ‌school‌ ‌year,‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌relieved.‌ ‌

“I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌a‌ ‌big‌ ‌burden‌ ‌off‌ ‌my‌ ‌shoulders,‌ ‌God‌ ‌is‌ ‌so‌ ‌good,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“For‌ ‌me,‌ ‌OSP‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌life‌ ‌changer.‌ ‌It‌ ‌has‌ ‌let‌ ‌us‌ ‌breathe.”‌ ‌ ‌

The‌ ‌federally-funded‌ ‌program‌ ‌helps‌ ‌cover‌ ‌the‌ ‌costs‌ ‌of‌ ‌tuition‌ ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌uniforms‌ ‌and‌ ‌books‌ ‌for‌ ‌families‌ ‌in‌ ‌need‌ ‌at‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌50‌ ‌Washington‌ ‌schools.‌ ‌Since‌ ‌beginning‌ ‌in‌ ‌2004,‌ ‌the‌ ‌voucher‌ ‌program‌ ‌awarded‌ ‌10,701‌ ‌scholarships‌ ‌for‌ ‌students‌ ‌in‌ ‌kindergarten‌ ‌through‌ ‌12th‌ ‌grade.‌ ‌This‌ ‌past‌ ‌December,‌ ‌Congress‌ ‌reauthorized‌ ‌the‌ ‌Scholarships‌ ‌for‌ ‌Opportunity‌ ‌and‌ ‌Results‌ ‌(SOAR)‌ ‌Act,‌ ‌which‌ ‌includes‌ funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,‌ ‌for‌ ‌four‌ ‌more‌ ‌years.‌ ‌ ‌

Today,‌ ‌two‌ ‌of‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌and‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi’s‌ ‌children‌ ‌attend‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s:‌ ‌a‌ ‌seventh‌ ‌grader,‌ ‌Rehema,‌ ‌and‌ ‌Imani,‌ ‌who‌ ‌is‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌grade.‌ ‌They‌ ‌also‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌15-month-old‌ ‌daughter,‌ ‌Taraji.‌ ‌

Imani‌ ‌shared‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ religion‌ ‌class,‌ ‌she‌ ‌is‌ ‌learning‌ ‌about‌ ‌Baptism,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌science‌ ‌class,‌ she‌ and her classmates just finished a unit on inventions.‌ ‌ ‌

Rehema,‌ ‌who‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌attending‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s‌ ‌since‌ pre-kindergarten,‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌teachers‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌school‌ ‌“really‌ ‌care.”‌ ‌

“They‌ ‌put‌ ‌a‌ ‌whole‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌heart‌ ‌and‌ ‌soul‌ ‌into‌ ‌teaching,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

Enrolled‌ ‌in‌ ‌advanced‌ ‌math‌ ‌courses‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌school,‌ ‌Rehema‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌various‌ ‌opportunities‌ ‌for‌ ‌learning‌ ‌“heightens‌ ‌the‌ ‌extent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌education‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌receiving‌ ‌here.”‌ ‌Her‌ ‌mother‌ ‌added‌ ‌that‌ ‌Rehema‌ ‌is‌ ‌consistently‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌honor‌ ‌roll.‌ ‌ ‌

The‌ ‌community‌ ‌within‌ ‌her‌ ‌classroom,‌ ‌found‌ ‌among‌ ‌many‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌classmates‌ ‌who‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌together‌ ‌since‌ ‌pre-kindergarten,‌ ‌also‌ ‌extends‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌family-like‌ ‌atmosphere‌ ‌that‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s‌ ‌has.‌ ‌“We‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌always‌ ‌admit‌ ‌it,‌ ‌but‌ ‌we‌ ‌love‌ ‌each‌ ‌other,”‌ ‌Rehema‌ ‌said,‌ ‌noting‌ ‌her‌ ‌class’s‌ ‌closeness.‌ ‌ 

As‌ ‌a‌ ‌current‌ ‌kindergarten‌ ‌classroom‌ ‌aide,‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌has‌ ‌found‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌whole‌ ‌school community‌ ‌“looks‌ ‌out‌ ‌for‌ ‌one‌ ‌another,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ 

“I’m‌ ‌blessed‌ ‌my‌ ‌children‌ ‌are‌ ‌here‌ ‌(at‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s),‌ ‌I‌ ‌know‌ ‌that‌ ‌even‌ ‌if‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌not‌ ‌here,‌ ‌they’ll‌ ‌have a‌ ‌good‌ ‌foundation,”‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“I‌ ‌know‌ ‌they’ll‌ ‌change‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌because‌ ‌of‌ ‌this education.”‌ ‌ ‌

She‌ ‌added‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌loves‌ ‌how‌ ‌the‌ ‌Catholic‌ ‌faith‌ ‌is‌ ‌incorporated‌ ‌into‌ ‌each‌ ‌day‌ ‌with‌ ‌prayer,‌ ‌the‌ ‌sacraments,‌ ‌and‌ ‌catechism‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌classroom.‌ ‌ ‌

Martin‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said‌ ‌before‌ ‌their‌ ‌two‌ ‌school-aged‌ ‌children‌ ‌received‌ ‌the‌ ‌scholarship‌ ‌“it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌tough‌ ‌task‌ ‌for‌ ‌us,”‌ ‌but‌ ‌“we‌ ‌would‌ ‌rather‌ ‌sacrifice‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‌education‌ ‌than‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌better‌ ‌life.”‌ ‌ ‌

There‌ ‌were‌ ‌years‌ ‌before‌ ‌they‌ ‌had‌ ‌certification‌ ‌to‌ ‌work‌ ‌in‌ ‌America‌ ‌or‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌driver’s‌ ‌license‌ ‌to‌ ‌even‌ ‌drive‌ ‌their‌ ‌children‌ ‌to‌ ‌school,‌ ‌but‌ ‌they‌ ‌made‌ ‌it‌ ‌happen‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‌children‌ ‌to‌ ‌receive‌ ‌a‌ ‌Catholic‌ ‌education‌ ‌at‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s.‌ ‌ ‌

“(OSP)‌ ‌is‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌big‌ ‌relief‌ ‌for‌ ‌our‌ ‌family,”‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

His‌ ‌wife‌ ‌added,‌ ‌“There‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌time‌ ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌dark.‌ ‌When‌ ‌OSP‌ ‌came,‌ ‌the‌ ‌lights‌ ‌started‌ ‌coming‌ ‌on.”‌ ‌ ‌

Both‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌and‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌have‌ ‌continued‌ ‌their‌ ‌own‌ ‌schooling‌ ‌in‌ ‌recent‌ ‌years,‌ ‌to‌ ‌encourage‌ ‌their‌ ‌children‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌future,‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said.‌ ‌Currently‌ ‌working‌ ‌as‌ ‌an‌ ‌accountant,‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌earned‌ ‌three‌ ‌master’s‌ ‌degrees‌ ‌in‌ ‌education,‌ ‌cybersecurity‌ ‌and‌ ‌business‌ ‌administration‌ ‌and‌ ‌is‌ ‌currently‌ ‌enrolled‌ ‌in‌ ‌computer‌ ‌certification‌ ‌courses‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌University‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌District‌ ‌of‌ ‌Columbia’s‌ ‌Community‌ ‌College.‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌plans‌ ‌to‌ ‌graduate‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌degree‌ ‌in‌ ‌early‌ ‌childhood‌ ‌education‌ ‌in‌ ‌May‌ ‌2021.‌ ‌ ‌

“I’m‌ ‌in‌ ‌school,‌ ‌my‌ ‌husband‌ ‌is‌ ‌in‌ ‌school,‌ ‌so‌ ‌that‌ ‌instead‌ ‌of‌ ‌working‌ ‌two‌ ‌or‌ ‌three‌ ‌jobs,‌ ‌we‌ ‌can‌ ‌get‌ ‌better‌ ‌jobs…‌ ‌to‌ ‌live‌ ‌the‌ ‌dream,”‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

When‌ ‌asked‌ ‌what‌ ‌lessons‌ ‌she‌ ‌has‌ ‌learned‌ ‌from‌ ‌her‌ ‌parents,‌ ‌Rehema‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌biggest‌ ‌ones‌ ‌was‌ ‌to‌ ‌“not‌ ‌be‌ ‌too‌ ‌proud.”‌ ‌ ‌

Education‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌United‌ ‌States‌ ‌is‌ ‌very‌ ‌different‌ ‌from‌ ‌what‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌and‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌experienced‌ ‌in‌ ‌Kenya,‌ ‌they‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

Having‌ ‌the‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌to‌ ‌study‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌school‌ ‌like‌ ‌St.‌ ‌Anthony’s,‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌said‌ ‌she‌ ‌hopes her‌ ‌children‌ ‌“strive‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌what‌ ‌we‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌become,‌ ‌because‌ ‌we‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌have‌ ‌the‌ ‌opportunity.”‌

Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌also‌ ‌said‌ ‌she‌ ‌is‌ ‌always‌ ‌“on‌ ‌top‌ ‌of”‌ ‌her‌ ‌children’s‌ ‌education,‌ ‌making‌ ‌sure‌ ‌they‌ ‌are‌ ‌doing‌ ‌well‌ ‌in‌ ‌school‌ ‌and‌ ‌completing‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌their‌ ‌homework.‌ ‌ ‌

“For‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌succeed,‌ ‌we‌ ‌also‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌play‌ ‌that‌ ‌part,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“St.‌ ‌Anthony’s‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌that‌ ‌place.‌ ‌We‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌a‌ ‌place‌ ‌that‌ ‌loves‌ ‌our‌ ‌kids‌ ‌like‌ ‌that.”‌ ‌ ‌

After‌ ‌getting‌ ‌their‌ ‌citizenship‌ ‌finalized‌ ‌last‌ ‌month,‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌and‌ ‌Scolastica‌ ‌Kariithi‌ ‌have‌ ‌great‌ ‌hopes‌ ‌for‌ ‌their‌ ‌family’s‌ ‌future.‌ ‌Rehema,‌ ‌who‌ ‌will‌ ‌go‌ ‌to‌ ‌high‌ ‌school‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌years,‌ ‌hopes‌ ‌to‌ ‌one‌ ‌day‌ ‌attend‌ ‌Massachusetts‌ ‌Institute‌ ‌of‌ ‌Technology‌ ‌and‌ ‌Imani,‌ ‌who‌ ‌will‌ ‌receive‌ ‌her‌ First‌ ‌Holy‌ ‌Communion‌ ‌next‌ ‌year,‌ ‌hopes‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ president‌ ‌one‌ ‌day,‌ ‌“to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌better,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌ ‌

Imani Kimathi Kariithi, a first grader at St. Anthony Catholic School, hopes to one day be the president of the United States. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)