CRANSTON — Rhode Island Families for School Choice this month will be hosting a screening of a new film that tells the story of Virginia Walden Ford, a single working mother whose tireless advocacy led to the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C.
Ford will also attend the screening, which will be held at 2 p.m., Jan. 20 at the Park Cinema in Cranston. After the 90-minute film, Ford will be available to answer the audience’s questions and sign copies of her book.
“It’s a wonderful benefit to us that she agreed to come to Rhode Island. I think she knows we’re working hard to try to make something happen here,” said Ed Bastia, the director of Rhode Island Families for School Choice.
Bastia said the screening is a prelude to National School Choice Week, which will be held the following week to underscore the efforts of parents and advocates who are working to create expanded educational opportunities for children. Ford’s story illustrates those efforts in striking detail.
“She personifies what a parent will do to make a difference in the lives of their students and their children,” Bastia said. “She vowed to her son that she would move heaven and earth to make a better life for him, and she did not stop between what she did with her advocacy group and working sometimes 2-3 jobs to help pay for his tuition in a non-public school.”
According to a film synopsis, Ford’s son was struggling in a Washington, D.C., public school. His grades and attendance were slipping, and he was being influenced by peers in an environment where violence and drugs were commonplace.
Ford pulled her son out of that school, and placed him in a private school. He began to flourish, made good friends and started earning better grades. However, Ford couldn’t afford the tuition, and had to remove him from that school as well.
“Being a single mom in the inner city, she didn’t have the means to pay for it,” said Rob Rianna, a parent who is helping to organize the screening. Rianna said the movie shows Ford breaking open a piggy bank and using every cent she owned for her son’s benefit.
“She fought really hard to get her son that education,” Rianna said.
While working several jobs to make ends meet, Ford created an advocacy organization to lobby legislators to help parents afford to give their children the best possible education they could. The result of her efforts was the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Act in Washington, D.C., which provides private school scholarships to parents of children in grades K-12.
Local school choice advocates hope Ford’s story can show what is possible not only in the nation’s capital, but in Rhode Island and elsewhere as well.
“My hope is that I think we can get some of the same things done here in Rhode Island,” Rianna said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there where we can help students who aren’t happy in their current school and may be really able to excel in another opportunity.”
“It’s a parent story, and an advocacy story at the same time,” Bastia added.
Rhode Island Families for School Choice has been lobbying state lawmakers in recent years to expand educational choice in the Ocean State. On Jan. 30, the group will host a Showcase of Schools advocacy event at the Rhode Island State House.
“We’re trying to get recognized by the leadership in the state of Rhode Island, to have them recognize that parents and families want extended educational opportunities for their children,” Bastia said. “The time has come for us to raise our hands and let ourselves be seen so that they know we’re out there.”
Bastia said other states have “good models” that allow educational funding to “follow” the child, no matter where they attend school. In Rhode Island, Bastia said, school choice is restricted to one’s street address unless they have the means to pay for private education.
“What we say is that the time has come to make a change to that,” Bastia said. “We are here, and we are definitely interested in moving forward with this, and for (legislators) to partner with us to make this a reality.”
Rianna said he expects at least 500 people to attend the screening at the Park Cinema, which holds 750 people, with additional seating upstairs. An RSVP is required to attend.
For more information and to register for the screening, visit nscwprovidenceriscreening.splashthat.com.