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'Like a gift from God': Archbishop Carroll students say Opportunity Scholarships help them reach their dreams

Ruth Mogus, left, a sophomore at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., and Ericelis Echeverria, a junior at Carroll, are recipients of D.C. Opportunity Scholarships. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Ruth Mogus, a sophomore at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., plans a future career as a general surgeon and has an internship lined up for this summer at Georgetown University. Ericelis Echeverria, a junior at Carroll, is still deciding between a career as a police officer or a lawyer. She has plans to shadow D.C. police officers this summer.

Both students say they have big dreams about their futures thanks to the education they receive at Archbishop Carroll and their ability to go there because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).

“This scholarship means something special to me. I am very thankful that I got the opportunity to receive it because I know there are kids that really want to be in my position,” Echeverria said. “If I did not have the scholarship, I would not be at Carroll.”

Last December, Congress reauthorized for four years the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which includes OSP. 

OSP – the only federally funded school voucher program in the nation – provides vouchers for low-income students to attend a school of their choice. OSP funds can be used at any schools participating in the program to pay for tuition, uniforms, books, and other school-related fees.

“The OSP scholarship gives my family the opportunity to give their children an education. This is the way my family and I survive, because having four children in one household is hard especially because my parents are foreigners,” Mogus said. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program means the world to me.”

Her parents – Betiel Zekarias and Mogus Meles – came to the United States from Eritrea.

An OSP scholar since elementary school, Mogus attended Sacred Heart School in Washington prior to enrolling at Carroll.

“My mom and dad came here looking for an opportunity for their future children,” Mogus said. “The OSP scholarship gives my family a safety net and makes my parents rest easy knowing their children are receiving a wonderful education from Catholic schools. Especially since my father is the only one bringing a paycheck home.”

Ruth Mogus, a sophomore and Opportunity Scholarship recipient at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., plans a future career as a general surgeon and has an internship lined up for this summer at Georgetown University. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Echeverria – the daughter of Erika Laken and Gustavo Echeverria – is a native of Panama who came to the United States with her mother.

“My mom taught me to love God and in a Catholic school, I can continue to learn about the faith that my mom taught me,” she said.

Echeverria, who attended St. Augustine School in Washington from the third through the eighth grade, knows the difference between a public and a private education. Her first two years of education were in a public school.

“In public school, I was bullied and treated terribly and could not focus on my education,” she said, adding, “My voice is being heard here (at Carroll). A lot of kids want this (scholarship), so for us to get it is like a gift from God.”

Ericelis Echeverria, a junior at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., aad a recipient of an Opportunity Scholarship, is contemplating a future career as either a police officer or a lawyer. She recently competed in a Latin dance competition in Colombia. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Mogus said she feels that “in a public school I would just be a number, someone who is there from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Here, I am part of a community where I can enhance my faith while I get a quality education. Here, we have smaller classes, and that means we can have one-on-one opportunities with the teachers and get to understand better what we are being taught.”

At Archbishop Carroll High School, both Mogus and Echeverria said, the opportunities provided to them extend beyond the classroom.

Mogus is a peer minister, assists at school Masses and is on the soccer team. Echeverria is part of the school’s Latin dance group and recently competed in Colombia, where the team placed third in their division. She is also a cheerleader and plans on trying out for the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading squad when she turns 18.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program is a way for people who don’t make it to the middle class to still provide a good education for their children where they can feel safe,” Mogus said.

Echeverria said that “the benefits of OSP are that it provides a good education with quality time with teachers in a community of love.”

At the time Congress reauthorized SOAR, Brian Radziwill, the director of government programs in the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office, told the Catholic Standard that the goal of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and the mission of the 18 Catholic schools in the city that participate in the program “go hand-in-hand, to make sure a quality education is available to every child in the District, regardless of economic status.”

Elana Gilmore, principal of Archbishop Carroll High School, agrees with that.

“OSP is a way for Carroll to support a quality education as a fundamental right,” she said. “It gives students an opportunity to be in a place that supports them while they grow spiritually and academically.”

Gilmore noted that 195 OSP scholars in the ninth through 12th grades currently attend Carroll, representing about 55 percent of the total student population.

“OSP helps thriving students who need the opportunity and the environment to support them,” she said, adding that over the years, OSP students at Carroll have ranked in the top 10 percent of their classes, served as valedictorians and have been accepted at Ivy League schools.

Since its inception in 2004, the voucher program has awarded 10,701 scholarships to kindergarten through 12th grade students in Washington, D.C. The average annual income for families receiving Opportunity Scholarship Program scholarships is just over $23,200. Nearly three-quarters of scholarship recipients are African American, and more than 17 percent are Hispanic. The high school graduation rate of participating students is 95 percent, and 87 percent go on to a two- or four-year college or university.

According to Serving Our Children, the organization which administers the scholarship program, several studies over the years have shown OSP students have higher reading scores than their peers, which is a key indicator for educational achievement. 

“I am very proud to say I am a Carroll Lion, and if it was not for my scholarship, I would not have made it this far,” Echeverria said. “I thank God for this opportunity, and I hope and pray that I can continue to make my mother proud.”

Mogus said that because of the support she feels from OSP, “it makes me want to strive for success to become somebody in the future. “

“Knowing that there is someone supporting me by helping pay my school finances makes me want to push even harder. I am very grateful,” she said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I know that hard work will bring out the best in me. OSP knows my parents are working hard to get me a good education. At the end of the day my main job as a student is to drive to be successful, and thanks to OSP this is being done.”