Gesu School: Education Choice in Action – Part III

Christmas is a time of giving. For many businesses and individuals across the state, Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship opportunities allow them to give so students like Alphonso and Makayla can have the best possible education.

Makayla leading the Gesu Gospel Choir in a Christmas hymn

Alphonso and Makayla are the president and treasurer of their student council. They know where they want to go to high school, where they want to go to college, and what their career goals are. On Tuesdays they tutor kindergarteners and fourth graders.

Alphonso’s favorite class is advanced writing. He’s an avid reader, most recently enjoying Nightjohn and Sarny, by Gary Paulsen, a fictional account of an 1850s slave who learns to read and survive on the plantation. Just as both students were drawn to Steve Pemberton’s childhood account, Alphonso and Makayla each found Paulsen’s tale of forbidden knowledge compelling.

Alphonso has applied to eight high schools (four of which he wouldn’t know about if not for Gesu), but hopes to attend The Haverford School for boys next year. After that he plans to attend college and start his own practice as a large animal veterinarian.

Alphonso has a younger sister who also attends Gesu. When asked who his everyday heroes are, Alphonso responds, “my family, because they show me the way of doing things. My parents are on me about my schoolwork.” Alphonso’s parents clearly prioritize their children’s educations and have been empowered to provide them the best education possible.

Gesu School 8th grade student council president Alphonso

Makayla’s favorite class is advanced math. She enjoys approaching problems from different perspectives. For a recent project, Makayla created an oversized Rubik’s Cube. Makayla has two siblings, a brother in 6th grade and a sister in college. When asked what a Gesu education means to her, Makayla responds, “Gesu makes me grow more than I expected. I have an advantage going into high school that other kids don’t.”

I say it all the time. Go and discover the world because it is bigger than North Philadelphia. Discover that knowledge and bring it back into the community.


Makayla hopes to attend Archbishop Carroll High School next year. After that she’ll “probably” attend St. Joseph’s University and teach students with special needs. Makayla feels it will be important for her to leave Philadelphia one day and return with newfound knowledge. “I say it all the time. Go and discover the world because it is bigger than North Philadelphia. Discover that knowledge and bring it back into the community.”

Gesu School 8th grade student council treasurer Makayla – Photo credit Edward Savaria 

Makayla’s everyday hero is her grandmother. “She helps a lot with the community. For example, she gave out coats for children who needed them. She’s also a big help in the family. She’s one of the most trustworthy women I know.”

Both students enjoy GEM (Gesu Extra Mile) after-school sessions, where they can focus on classes, culinary arts, or sports, or spend time outdoors. In addition to providing extra-curriculars for students, GEM offers Gesu teachers the opportunity to supplement their incomes and their resumes.

These kids are thriving.

Tragically, not all North Philly students have the same educational opportunities as Alphonso and Makayla. Gesu doesn’t have the space to accommodate all who apply. The school is forced to maintain a waitlist every year.

Last year alone, nearly 53,000 tax credit scholarship applications were rejected statewide due to program limits. And the problem is worse in urban areas where students have the greatest need. This Christmas, what better gift to give than educational opportunity? Students belong in the school of their dreams, not on a waitlist. Let’s raise the limits on these programs, so all Pennsylvania students can thrive, dream, and have the best chance of a happy life.

Read part I featuring Steve Pemberton's inspiring story of everyday heroes, and how one kind adult can change the life of a child.

Read part II featuring the everyday heroes of the kids in North Philly—their educators.