Dayana Vazquez-Buquer was excelling at Greenwood High School and had no interest in transferring elsewhere when her mom first mentioned a new state voucher program meant for families like hers.
The vivacious 16-year-old balked. Her friends were at Greenwood. Her grades were good. And as she prepared for her junior year, Dayana didn’t feel any need to transfer to a new school.
But her mom – encouraged by a priest – insisted that she check out Roncalli High School, a private, Catholic school on the south side of Indianapolis. One visit was all it took.
Now, several months into her first year at Roncalli, Dayana has no regrets about her decision to transfer and lauds the General Assembly for creating the voucher program.
“It opens doors that you would probably never even see that were there,” Dayana said. “You have an opportunity to do better in life and have a great chance to not just get good grades and all that, but actually get to a point, get to a goal, by those grades.”
Dayana is among 3,919 students from low- to moderate-income Indiana families who qualified for an Indiana Choice Scholarship this year.
Of those, 86 percent were moving from a public school to a private one.
Some have since returned to their public schools. Others, like Dayana, are thriving.
“My education has definitely changed because my GPA went up, and I’m really happy about it,” Dayana said. “I now have this sense of achievement. I know I’m trying hard, and I understand it now. I’m not just going through the motions anymore.”
Dayana’s family emigrated from Mexico when she was 6 years old because of her mother’s job. Her father is now a server at two restaurants and her mother stays at home.
Dayana and her sister, 7-year-old Ashley, qualified for full vouchers, which use public money to pay 90 percent of the cost of private-school tuition and are available to families of four with a household income of $41,348 or less.
Students in a family of four with incomes between $41,349 and $62,022 can receive a voucher worth 50 percent of the tuition.
Ashley attends Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic School. Dayana said she’s thrilled her younger sister is getting an earlier start at a private school, which she hopes will provide a better learning environment.
“I think at public school, you get to see things and hear things about life that you shouldn’t be hearing at that age,” Dayana said. “By her going to a private, religious school, I definitely think that’s going to be better for her. She won’t have to put up with all of that stuff. She won’t have to mature faster than she should.”
But Dayana said the advantages at private schools are not just about what you won’t find but about what you will as well. Colleges come to recruit at Roncalli, clubs and after-school activities are diverse, and the atmosphere is nurturing.
There’s less chaos and more focus on education, she said. “It hurts me to say that,” Dayana acknowledged. She still thinks of the Greenwood schools as her home.
But Roncalli, she said, is “more like a big family.”
Still, Dayana said she wouldn’t necessarily recommend at transfer to all students at a public school.
“I think it depends on the person,” she said. “I really want to succeed in life. Some people should stay in a public school, though. If they were able to come to a private school, maybe that would change for them, but there are some kids that really just don’t care about their education.”