Kathryn Miller worried when her son Gabriel Shimoni started waking up sick to his stomach in the mornings and complaining he didn’t want to go to school.
She learned Gabriel’s boredom in his second-grade classroom stemmed from a lack of being challenged academically, and when Gabriel stopped focusing on his lessons, he disrupted the class with his chatter. Kathryn was called into the school for a parent-teacher conference a couple times over the year to discuss his behavior.
Kathryn’s concern grew when Gabriel told her that kids on the safety patrol made fun of him and threatened to beat him up.
Stress from the situation made him physically ill, she said.
As Gabriel approached third grade, his mother learned he was going to be enrolled in a combined second- and third-grade class which was comprised of eight third-graders and 12 second-graders. Kathryn was disappointed because she thought Gabriel should have been promoted to the combined third- and fourth-grade class. She was told this was because he had earned good grades in second grade and had shown he was capable of working alone, but budget cuts were also to blame, Kathryn said.
“If a student has earned merit or achieved recognition, then he would be rewarded for that by promotion into a higher-level grade with peers that can challenge him, not maintain him,” she said. “That is how it works in life in most other fields of interest whether sports, career or even college. You receive recognition, you gain merit, you advance.”
Kathryn, a divorced single mother of two who works as a librarian’s assistant in Ormond Beach, didn’t think private school would be an option for Gabriel.
“Being a single parent, it’s not always easy, and you’re always looking for the best you can give your children, and you don’t always have the resources,” Kathryn said.
Then she learned about the Step Up For Students Scholarship, and was relieved when she heard Gabriel had been awarded a scholarship during the same week that Gabriel was set to start third grade at his neighborhood school.
“This was like the skies opened up, and I was just being shown some favor in life,” Kathryn said.
Kathryn toured participating private school campuses near her home in Ormond Beach and found Temple Beth-El School, which is affiliated with Temple Beth-El.
“Every expectation I had as a parent was met when we went there,” she said. “I mean the first thing the director said was: ‘We do not allow bullying here.’”
In fact, Director Malka Altman herself will get involved when she hears about bullying, and her teachers also take swift action.
Kathryn was also told the school would be more challenging than Gabriel’s previous school, and this pleased her.
“I would drop him off and go to work and just feel content in knowing that he was learning in an environment that he was content in,” she said about Temple Beth-El, where Gabriel entered a combined third- and fourth-grade class at the start of the 2012-13 school year. He received all A’s on every one of his report cards and was recognized by the school director for his achievements.
Gabriel’s younger sister Noa attends Temple Beth-El School, too, thanks to Step Up For Students. The two children are the only Step Up students at the school.
Kathryn attended a private school and appreciates its values. One of those is stability, she said. When kids have to endure a separation or divorce, it helps to have a place that’s very stable and routine. Temple Beth-El was a stabilizing factor for Gabriel. Kathryn says her kids benefit from going to a school with a diverse population.
Since entering Temple Beth-El, Gabriel’s confidence has grown. He also has come home mentally fatigued, which to his mother is a good sign he’s being challenged academically. He’s become more interested in his schoolwork, Kathryn said.
Gabriel is now 9 and in a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class. He’s become an avid reader and enjoys science as well as being a member of the Boy Scouts and taking trumpet lessons.
Gabriel’s teacher Francine MacDonald has made a big impression. She’s helped him learn self-discipline such as how to do his homework under his own initiative, without prompting from his mother. She pushed him to rise to challenges.
“She’ll make learning fun,” Gabriel said.
Kathryn thinks that another important value of a private school education is that it teaches students to become people of character.
“That’s what I feel (Gabriel) has been given at this school,” Kathryn said. “The opportunity to grow into a person of character.”
About Temple Beth-El School
Temple Beth-El School is a private elementary and preschool school serving 2-year-olds through fifth-graders in Ormond Beach. Co-founded by Malka Altman in 1983, it is affiliated with Temple Beth-El. About 175 students were enrolled for the 2013-14 school, two of which are Step Up scholars. The school employs 40 teachers, many of whom have been at the school for two decades. In addition to its classrooms, the school has multiple playgrounds for different age groups, a social hall with stage and a 3,000-square-foot gymnasium.
The school places value on teaching children a second language and offers Spanish classes. It also offers preschool and after-school services and an after–school academy that includes soccer, karate, piano lessons and many other activities.
Tuition for the 2013-14 school year is $4,950. The school uses The Stanford Achievement Test to measure academic success.
Share this story