Kim Johnson ReportingThis next story is about a unique education program you probably haven't heard about, but it is having a remarkable impact on a lot of kids who otherwise may not have much hope for the future.
Children First Utah provides scholarships to private schools for 250 children from impoverished families. It is working because it is a partnership. The organization pays half and the families, struggling to make ends meet, pay the rest.
Graciela Franco enjoys getting her children off to school. School is a privilege she never had in her native Mexico. With the help of an interpreter she explains why.
Graciela Franco: “Because I’ve been working since I was eight.”
Graciela came to this country determined to give her children a happier future. With the scholarship help from Children First Utah she pulled them out of their Rose Park area elementary school and enrolled them at St. Vincent's Catholic School. Graciela does odd jobs at St. Vincent's, cleans houses, and cooks around the clock to scrape together her half of the tuition.
Graciela Franco: “Since I’ve had the first, I’ve decided I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure they can get ahead.”
And she says her children have a far better chance of getting ahead at St. Vincent's, where students average SAT score is in the 68th percentile, as opposed to the 32nd percentile at her children's former public school.
Jordan Clements, Founder, Children First Utah: "The schools are performing at maybe a third the level of the suburban schools on the east side. This dramatic disparity means these children have no hope, no possibility of a bright future for these folks."
Utah businessman Jordan Clements founded Children First Utah four years ago. He says he felt morally obligated to try and bridge the growing gap between the haves and have nots, a divide that's proving disastrous in other countries.
Jordan Clements: "And it's leading to civil unrest and anarchy and that's where our society is headed generations from now if we don't stop it now, and invest child by child in the future of these low income families."
The executive director of Children First Utah is also passionate about its purpose.
Leah Barker, Executive Director, Children First Utah: “I grew up in extreme poverty. I don’t think there’s another way out.”
She believes her organization offers a long term solution to poverty, one child at a time.
Leah Barker: “This is a one time investment. Invest in a child today and I don’t think you’ll ever have to come back and reinvest in them.”
More than 1,000 families applied for these scholarships last year. At this point the organization has enough in donations to send 250 to private school.