James and Maureen Cannalte know their children well – all eight of them. So when it comes to determining the best education for each, they have stretched the gamut of options.

            While living in Texas, home schooling seemed the best fit for their growing family. Then, when job opportunity brought the Cannaltes to Pell Lake, WI, virtual schooling became available and most instruction was accessed via the Internet. When another professional move to Modine Manufacturing brought the Cannaltes to Racine two years ago, they looked at the public school system to educate their children.

            Now, their youngest child, Blaze, will enter 5-year-old Kindergarten during the 2015-16 school year, and he prompted yet another educational decision. The Cannaltes discovered the Parental Private School Choice Program.

            After receiving a flyer in the mail about HOPE Christian Schools, they enrolled Blaze in the founding Kindergarten class. HOPE Via is scheduled to open at the former Careers building on Douglas Avenue on Racine’s north side. About the same time that the school’s flyer landed on their doorstep, a friend contacted them and suggested that HOPE Via would be a good choice for Blaze. They knew they had to do some exploring.

            “We toured the school in Milwaukee. We listened to the principal (Castenzio Venegas) and learned about his vision for the school,” says Maureen. “We just can’t wait to be a part of that.”

            HOPE Christian schools have operated in Milwaukee for 13 years. There are four other elementary schools in Milwaukee and a high school, all where “Christ. College. Character©” is the emphasis. The high school is situated in a section of the city where the academic achievement gap among black students is among the worst in the country. But, HOPE Christian High School is defying the odds. For the fourth year in a row, 100 percent of the senior graduating class will be going to college in the fall. Something is working, and the Racine area, which echoes Milwaukee’s academic achievement rates, will get a glimpse of HOPE when Via opens in the fall. The school will have 5-year-old Kindergarten through Grade 3 during the first year, and will build up to a K-8 school each succeeding year. It is a non-denominational Christian school.

            “We got a good feeling for the schools and liked the discipline and the structure,” says Maureen. “But the part that really hooked us is that in the midst of it all, Christ is an important part of the environment, and that’s what drew us. We’re excited to see Blaze in that atmosphere.”

            Choosing the right fit for their children isn’t a blind experiment. Out of their eight children, six will still be school age in the fall. As they learned about the School Choice program, the Cannaltes applied for Blaze and two of his siblings to attend private schools through the voucher program. 

            When they found out all three children were accepted into the program, they sat down with each to determine what would be the best fit. Their soon-to-be eighth-grade son struggles with some special learning needs. He has been flourishing under the tutelage of a special education teacher at a Racine public school.

            “He is happy there and getting good grades,” says Maureen. “We decided to keep him where he is getting the help he needs.”

            Their daughter, also in middle school, attends one of Racine Unified School District’s magnet schools. Her transition last year from virtual schooling to public schools was a little rocky. She transferred to the magnet school midyear and has planted roots there.

            “She really wanted to stay at her school, and she’s done fabulously there,” says her mom. “We go with our kids’ feelings, too. We want them to be happy and safe where they’re at.”

            Blaze is the baby, and this will be a whole new adventure for him and his family. To offer him an education with a spiritual component was the tipping point for the Cannaltes.

            “We’re Christians, and to know that our child can be taught from a Christian perspective is important to us,” Maureen explains.

            For the Cannaltes, School Choice has a broader meaning. Not only does it offer the family an opportunity to consider sending their children to a private school without the added financial burden it would take, it offers them the option to choose the best fit for the unique individual needs of each of their children, and that gives the Cannaltes a sense of control and comfort as they nurture their children into adulthood.

            “Ultimately, our hope is that they will see success in their education and become the best people that they can be,” says Maureen, “a light in the world.”