STAR Scholarship offers educational opportunities

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

There’s no doubt the STAR Sponsorship program made a difference in the life of Maria Barragan.

“If I didn’t have the opportunity to be in the STAR Scholarship Program, my life would be a complete disaster…honestly!” she bursts, with a bit of youthful exaggeration. “I would have been another statistic to add to the Hispanic dropout rate.”

Instead, the 18-year-old Nolan Catholic High School graduate attends St. Mary’s University in San Antonio where she is studying biology and chemistry. Her goal? A career in medicine.

“I want to help the less fortunate who can’t get proper medication attention, like low-income families,” Maria explains.

Her larger vision is to someday work in a Third World country. Poverty and disadvantage are familiar themes for the perky college freshman. Her parents left Mexico to find a better life in the U.S. Giving their three children the best education possible was part of the plan. The STAR (Success Through Academic Readiness) Sponsorship Program is helping them achieve that goal.

Started 20 years ago, STAR provides financial assistance to financially-strapped parents who want a private education for their youngsters. In 1998, the Children’s Scholarship Fund joined forces with the Fort Worth project to aid more students. The organization celebrated its two decades of success with a Sept. 26 gathering of STAR students and donors at the Fort Worth home of Anna Melissa and Peter Philpott.

Seven Catholic schools — All Saints, Nolan Catholic, Our Lady of Victory, Our Mother of Mercy, St. Andrew, St. George, and St. Rita — currently participate in the program.

“Other private schools are also involved and parents can select where they want their children to go,” says Patty Myers, executive director of STAR/CSF Fort Worth.

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Maria Barragan, pictured here with Paul Greenwell, one of STAR’s co-founders, received the Marian Award. The Chaminade Award goes to a boy and the Marian Award goes to the senior girl who exemplifies the Marianist spirit. “I was blessed to be nominated because I love to help those around me and I love being involved in school activities. I also love promoting my faith and living it,” Maria said. (Photo courtesy of STAR)

Scholarship awards depend on grades, performance, effort, and attendance. All applicants must qualify financially.

Since its founding in 1993, STAR has awarded 3,500 scholarships valued at $4.2 million.

“Children receive only a partial scholarship so the parent and the school partner with us,” Myers explains. “It’s a three-way investment.”

Over the years, demand for assistance has grown.

“We get applications every day. People call and ask, ‘Can you help me?’” she adds. “They hear about us from the school or through friends and Internet searches.”

Currently, 111 youngsters in Fort Worth are receiving a quality education at a school of their choice thanks to direct assistance from sponsoring individuals or foundations channeled through STAR. All donated funds given to STAR students are used for student tuition. Money to manage the program is raised separately.

One of the program’s co-founders, Janet Carter, says she wanted to help parents gain access to other educational choices for two reasons — fairness and efficacy.

“Why should anyone be confined to one choice in education when children learn so many different ways?” she reasons. “Only the rich have options, due to their ability to pay.”

Giving youngsters a proper education in the lower grades paves the way for success in high school and college.

“It’s gratifying to see the area’s best high schools interested in our eighth grade graduates,” Carter continues. “And beyond high school, our students offer colleges diversity and academic excellence in one package.”

Paul Greenwell, another STAR program co-founder, has sponsored the education of several area families. For the past seven years, he’s helped Maria and her two brothers, Rafael and Jesus, attend Nolan Catholic and St. Rita schools.

People have a choice in the type of car they buy and where they shop for groceries. Greenwell believes parents should have options when it comes to education, even if they are limited financially. Some students are affected by teaching style, safety issues, and classroom size — factors often remedied by attending a private school.

“I’m proud of the kids I’ve helped, but I’m just as proud of their parents,” explains the vice president and investment manager of Luther King Capital Management Corp. “The commitment to their children in time and other things is pronounced. They have a vision of what they want their children to achieve through education.”

Maria’s father, who speaks little English, received no formal education. Her mother is employed as a cafeteria worker. Their daughter’s success in school will quickly advance future generations of the Barragan family academically and economically.

“That’s what this program is about,” Greenwell insists. “Both Maria and her children have the opportunity to move forward toward the American dream.”

When the education advocate organized STAR 20 years ago, he thought a statewide voucher program allowing school choice would eventually take hold. That didn’t happen, but the demand for a private school education grew anyway. The STAR program is affiliated with an increasing number of both faith-based and secular private schools in Tarrant County. A family’s religious affiliation is not a question STAR organizers ask.

“We simply try to help parents identify a school that matches their child’s needs,” Greenwell explains. “Catholic schools happen to be the low-cost provider of an extremely good product, so they probably get a disproportionate number of our kids. That’s not by design.”

Students paired with a STAR donor are selected because of academic potential and parental involvement. Many go on to attend premier high schools and receive college scholarships to top schools like Boston College and Rice University.

Greenwell, who has sponsored one or more youngsters each year since the program’s inception, says the feedback he cares about the most comes from parents. In May, he sat with Maria’s mother and father as their daughter received a high school diploma at Nolan’s commencement.

“Seeing the excitement they felt was incredibly rewarding,” he explains. “There are a lot of incredible charities doing good things in Fort Worth, but you don’t often get the feedback I got that afternoon. It’s wonderful to see a young lady achieve something and be ready to take that next step in the world.”

For more information, visit STAR’s website at http://www.starcsffw.org/.

STAR-for-BUTTON.jpgThere’s no doubt the STAR Sponsorship program made a difference in the life of Maria Barragan. “If I didn’t have the opportunity to be in the STAR Scholarship Program, my life would be a complete disaster…honestly!” she bursts, with a bit of youthful exaggeration. “I would have been another statistic to add to the Hispanic dropout rate.” Instead, the 18-year-old Nolan Catholic High School graduate attends St. Mary’s University in San Antonio where she is studying biology and chemistry.

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