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Students rally in Annapolis for Nonpublic School Advocacy Day to highlight importance of BOOST Scholarship program

About 300 students from all over Maryland met in Annapolis on Tuesday, March 5, for Nonpublic School Advocacy Day to demonstrate to lawmakers the need for state funding in their schools. Of the 20 schools in attendance, 16 were Catholic schools from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Other schools in attendance and supporting state funding for nonpublic schools included Yeshiva of Greater Washington Girls Division, Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Al-Rahmah School, and Bais Yaakov High School.

On Nonpublic School Advocacy Day, students head to the State House to rally and meet with representatives and delegates to discuss issues impacting their schools, and programs such as BOOST, the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today scholarship program.

According to the Maryland Department of Education, BOOST scholarships hit an “all-time high” in 2023. During the 2022 to 2023 school year, there were 3,250 Boost recipients, all of whom were eligible for FARMs, which are free or reduced-price meals.

Garrett O’Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, told the Standard what people might not realize about nonpublic schools and state funding.

“I think a misconception about nonpublic schools is probably that they serve very high-income folks, and especially the schools that are here today all serve lower and middle-income folks, as do almost all of our Catholic schools,” O’Day said. “They do not charge a very high tuition, that makes them eligible for state funding programs and the parents and the students need it just as much as any student in our state.”

The annual gathering aims to help students advocate for their schools and better understand their local government.

“The students had a great time viewing the legislative session and meeting with their legislators and gained, hopefully, a good working knowledge of our state government so they can put their advocacy to work when they become voting adults,” O’Day said.

During the rally portion of the day, Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, executive director of Agudath Israel of Maryland and president of Maryland Council for American Private Education (CAPE), led students to chant, “B-O-O-S-T Boost helps kids like you and me!” “B-O-O-S-T join us in our advocacy,” and “BOOST, BOOST, BOOST the funding for our private schools, yeah!”

Delegates, representatives, and those who work to lobby for BOOST spoke to students on the importance of BOOST and how they believe state funding for their nonpublic schools is a right.

Students experienced the State House in shifts, including a self-guided tour, during which they learned about the caucus room from the original 1779 State House, the archives room, and meeting with those who work with delegates and senators.

Among the students at the advocacy day were those from St. Joseph's Regional Catholic School from Beltsville who met with a staffer from Sen. James Rosapepe’s office. Rosapepe represents Beltsville and Laurel.

The staffer told students that Sen. Rosapepe has “always been supportive of these sorts of programs” when discussing BOOST.

St. Joseph’s students told those in Rosapepe’s office how state funding helped their schools, including improved bathrooms and upgraded security, and textbooks and technology, which included interactive whiteboard panels, combining rooms, and a new telecoms system.

Vice Principal James Morris explained how grateful their school is and how important BOOST is to their school.

Moving forward, the school could use state funding to help with its windows, making the building more secure and energy efficient.

Eighth-grader Jaidon Contreras told the Standard the impact BOOST has had on his education.

“Boost has helped me and my family actually provide a good education for myself. It is helped me a lot, and not only that, from what I'm finding out through this whole program, it's helped out the school that I go to,” Contreras said. “It's helped build a new security system. It's helped redo the bathrooms that weren't that good before, and it's just really amazing what this program's doing to our school.”

Contreras said he was looking forward to sharing with his classmates on the day and hearing their thoughts on BOOST and Nonpublic School Advocacy Day.

“I'm really looking forward to seeing what the other kids in my class have thought of this experience. A lot of times, you have your own experience, but there are so many different experiences around the world that you just don't know about. I like hearing stories, and it's just amazing,” Contreras said.

Peer Michael Bullock, a fellow eighth grader at St. Joseph’s, is the class president. He said he found the day inspiring and is considering pursuing politics himself.

“I think it's really inspiring to get me into getting BOOST for multiple children in nonpublic schools,” Bullock said. I've learned that the government is really trying to help our nonpublic schools, and it's just really nice to see.”

Lillian Kratzen and Joseph Miller are eighth graders at the School of the Incarnation in Baltimore. They shared what was surprising to them from the experience.

Alex Cuadra (at left) and Amaya Eliax, eighth graders at St. Mary's School in Landover Hills, stand with their posters displaying what state funding can provide for nonpublic schools. (CS Photo/Mihoko Owada)

“I learned how quickly a law or a bill can be passed. It's very quick. You just say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’ and then most people change their answers at the last second, too, which I was very surprised about,” Katzen said.

Miller reflected on seeing the session happen in person.

“To be honest, I was surprised to see that in the court, there's a little bit of a light. I thought it would all be completely serious, but they were joking around,” Miller said.

Although neither student is currently interested in pursuing politics, they both felt the importance of advocating for programs that benefit education.

“I do think that knowledge wants to be free. I think that people should be allowed to learn and that sort of thing and not have to have that be a financial struggle,” Miller said.

Katzen added that religion is an important part of education for many.

“I just think Catholic School is a really important and viable option, and it should be considered to all people because religion is very important,” Katzen said.

Del. Mary Lehman's chief of staff, Mary Jane Coolen, and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk’s chief of staff, Edith Edith Perry spoke with students in the Health and Government Operations Committee bill hearings room in the House Office Building. Both gave students advice, including how to speak into the microphone and how bills are passed.

Later in the day, Amaya Eliax and Alex Cuadra, eighth graders at St. Mary’s School in Landover Hills, said they took away a lot from the day.

Students carry signs supporting the BOOST scholarship program during the March 5 Nonpublic School Advocacy Day in Annapolis. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, the state-funded scholarship helps students in 21 of 23 counties in Maryland, as well as Baltimore City. (CS Photo/Mihoko Owada)

“I really liked how the whole delegate thing worked because you got to see in the gallery how it all worked out, how they had to take a roll, and how they voted. I also liked how each delegate took their time, how they even wrote down notes and said that they'll try to fix everything in the future,” Eliax said.

Cuadra shared about her time speaking with a staffer.

“I learned how critical it is to advocate for something you believe in, such as education. What I was presenting was transportation and how it affects the lives of other students,” Cuadra said.

Eliax said she believes the BOOST scholarship could go further with greater funds.

“We don't normally get a lot right now, though it has helped our school a lot. I bet even without that little bit of money that we do get. Our school wouldn't be as successful as it is today. I know a lot of students, and their parents depend on BOOST so they can come to our school, too,” Eliax said.

At the end of the event, students regrouped at The Atreeum, a venue owned by the Columbus Club of Annapolis for the Knights of Columbus, for lunch. There, it was announced that students from St. Mary's School in Landover Hills  won four out of five awards in a poster contest. Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan joined students for lunch.

BOOST applications close on May 3, 2024.