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Reaping the benefits of financial aid

Families welcome financial help to put their children through school

For Darius Walczak, a full boarding scholarship for his 12-year-old son Norman to attend St. George's School for boys in Vancouver, BC changed everything.

The scholarship allowed Norman to attend the school he wanted, Walczak says. "We weren't in a position to fully finance it ourselves."

The $27,500 tuition would have been too much for the family, which was already facing moving costs for Walczak's new job in Houston. Like many of the more than 1,600 Canadian private schools, St. George's School provides merit-based financial aid.

In late 2002, the family took the necessary steps to apply, starting with Norman writing the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), which measures a student's math, verbal, writing and reading abilities.

The test proved to be manageable for Norman, who is strong in academics. In the end, though, it was his long list of extracurricular accomplishments - in music, sports and public speaking - that helped to clinch the scholarship.

Walczak, his wife and two other sons now live in Texas, while Norman is thriving academically at St. George's and enjoying the new experience of boarding.

"It's a good thing that St. George's is doing," Walczak says. "They're trying to attract not just rich students, but ones who can contribute to the school."

It's a sentiment shared by Brampton, Ontario resident and Indian immigrant Savita Solomon. In early 2003, her oldest child was in Grade 9 at Canadian Christian Academy (CCA), and her two other children attended a local public school. Solomon's family couldn't afford to have all her children enrolled at CCA.

Then she found out about Children First: School Choice Trust (www.childrenfirstgrants.ca), a privately funded charity that offers tuition help to Ontario families wishing to send their children to independent elementary schools.

Solomon's application was one of more than 5,000 applications competing for the 225 Children First grants, which were awarded through a lottery. But she landed two grants: one for her daughter Kimberly, who entered kindergarten at the CCA in 2003, and one for her son Kevin, who entered Grade 5.

Solomon says all three children are enjoying academic success at the school and have found friends.

"It's been a very positive experience with Children First," Solomon says. "They're doing an extremely noble thing by helping parents send their kids to the school of their choice.

Make sure that you also find out about private schools with financial aid programs.

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