The Villareal family will make almost any sacrifice to get their sons to Catholic school by the first bell.
During the upcoming school year, Wendy Villareal and her two sons will rise at the crack of dawn and drive from their Montbello home in their 2004 Dodge truck to St. Rose of Lima School and Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver.
She and her husband, Francisco, believe in the value of Catholic education.
“We just want our boys to grow in the faith and have respect and good manners,” Wendy said. “We encourage that at home, but it’s also good to have that at school.”
Name a hurdle and the family said they’ll find a way to overcome it.
“Believe me, we will do whatever we can to make it work,” she said. “I’m very confident we’re making the right decision.”
Cost was one significant obstacle for the family of four who earns about $40,000 between Francisco’s trucking job and Wendy’s social work for Hispanic families at Catholic Charities.
Seeds of Hope, a nonprofit that provides tuition assistance for working families sending their children to Catholic school, help the Villareals bridge the gap.
“The possibility of [sending our kids to] a Catholic school was way beyond our means,” Wendy told the Spanish publication El Pueblo Católico in a separate interview.
But when Wendy visited area public schools before her eldest son, Mario, was entering kindergarten, she witnessed an environment she didn’t want him to experience.
“One of these schools was right in front of my house,” she said. “It was very convenient. My son could walk to school and I could see him from the door, but when I went for a visit, the first thing I saw were two kids hugging and kissing right in front of the principal’s office without any respect. I did not want my little one to be exposed to that.”
She said the class size was also large with 35 students to one teacher. She kept looking until she visited St. Rose of Lima School in Denver.
“I saw a big change—there were 12 to 15 children per teacher, the programs required parents to be involved in their children’s education, there was a family atmosphere and best of all, it was a Catholic school,” she said.
As time went on, tuition became more difficult to afford, so Wendy went to work. In addition to receiving aid from Seeds of Hope, their sons earned school scholarships and aid from ACE Scholarships. Their eldest son works at Machebeuf, which also helps stem tuition costs. Francisco also took the highest paying job he could find despite it taking him from home for long periods.
“This is a big one for us because we’re a very close family,” Wendy said. “He has to travel for a week, sometimes two weeks, out of the home. That’s really hard for us.”
It was especially difficult for Wendy when they got into an accident on Interstate 70 while on the way to school.
“There was nobody to call,” she said, recalling the accident in their only vehicle.
The family also faced difficulty when their home was flooded last year during Christmas and all of their belongings were destroyed.
“When we got back everything was flooded,” Wendy said. “The insurance has paid us what they think (covers costs) but it’s still not enough.”
After living in a hotel for months, they moved back in and are preparing for another school year.
“Catholic schools help you a lot. There’s financing, scholarships, aid programs—it’s a matter of searching and make sacrifices,” she said.
Natalie Mesko, executive director of Seeds of Hope, said the nonprofit helps offer parents the choice of Catholic school.
“Seeds of Hope makes the tremendous benefit of a Catholic education available to economically disadvantaged students in the greater Denver area,” she said. “By focusing efforts on K-8 schools with the highest level of need, Seeds of Hope is able to offer parents a choice in seeking out the best, faith-filled education for their children.”
Wendy said she realized that even though parents are the primary educators of their children, schools have tremendous influence on their upbringing. The sacrifices they’ve made, even cutting things like entertainment, have had a positive impact on their children, she said.
“These sacrifices, other than to allow them a good education, has brought the family together, has helped them live with grateful hearts and has established in all of them a great sense of solidarity and responsibility,” Wendy said.
Another benefit is children who understand the value of work.
“My children have learned to work from a young age during the summers,” she said. “They now know what things cost because they worked to earn them and so far they have learned to value what they have. On the other hand, they know that with better education they will have more opportunities in life.”
Wendy said after their family put education first before their own personal lives, a private education became possible.
“If we believe it’s possible, it’s going to be possible,” she said.
Lara Montoya contributed to this article.