I graduated from Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls with a 5.3 grade point average. At Little Flower, I was an active student, participating in numerous clubs, sports, and groups. I did all this while working two jobs. This fall, I will attend Saint Joseph’s University as a first-generation college student.
I’m not bragging. Instead, I’m providing an example of what happens when somebody gives a child the opportunity to excel and succeed.
Although I was lucky, my path to Little Flower was far from easy.
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When I was thirteen, immigration agents detained and arrested my dad. The agents even threatened to take me, even though I am a citizen. It was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. His tears paralyzed me. The look of regret on his face still haunts me today.
My dad went to a detention center, and Mom faced a pile of bills while raising her three kids. Without Dad, Mom became our family’s breadwinner.
As if all this wasn’t overwhelming enough, I also, at this time, needed to decide where I would attend high school. My choices were Little Flower or my neighborhood public school.
I wanted Little Flower. It was safe there. It felt like the right school for me.
But Little Flower was the more expensive option. My mom, struggling to pay the bills herself, made one thing clear to me: Without a significant scholarship to attend Little Flower, I had to go to my local public school. No matter how badly she wanted to help me, she just didn’t have the means.
My neighborhood school is notoriously violent. Fights and altercations happened all the time there — my own cousin was beaten and stabbed. I was a scared fourteen-year-old shouldering the weight of having to find a way to avoid such violence.
My fate was in my hands, and it was all because of money. Money stood between me and my safety.
I wasn’t alone in this struggle. In my community, families struggle financially every day. But being poor doesn’t mean a child deserves less of an education. Every kid deserves to attend a school where they feel safe, protected, and encouraged.
Rather than having every child rely on luck, it would be better if we could offer a lifeline instead.
Luckily for me, someone offered me a lifeline. Sr. Sheila, a nun who used to work at Little Flower, took me under her wing. She worked relentlessly to help me find scholarships. Sr. Sheila called everybody she could to find the money I needed to attend Little Flower. Sr. Sheila saw my potential and knew I needed someone to invest in my future.
That’s what all students need: somebody to invest in their future. This is why Lifeline Scholarships, which could give lower-income students the financial support they need to attend the schools of their choice, are so important.
I wasn’t the only person in my neighborhood who wanted to attend Little Flower. During my sophomore year, I served as a summer camp counselor, working with several middle schoolers who, like me, struggled to figure out where to go to high school. When fall came, we unfortunately went our separate ways. They couldn’t afford Little Flower.
Hundreds of thousands of kids are not receiving a proper education, contributing to the growing violence in Philadelphia and our entire state. Kids who don’t have a place where they feel safe are more likely to end up on the streets, where they are likely to be jailed or killed.
I know Lifeline Scholarships could save many kids from this failing, violent system and positively impact many families. Money should not be the reason kids don’t receive the education they deserve. No kid deserves to be stuck in a failing school, scared and alone. With Lifeline Scholarships, they wouldn’t have to.
I was lucky. But rather than having every child rely on luck, it would be better if we could offer a lifeline instead.
Jaslin Vasquez-Gonzalez is an incoming freshman at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.