Tennessee Education Stories: Ambrose Vargason
Brett and Maria Vargason moved to East Nashville long before the neighborhood was widely recognized among the South’s trendiest culinary and music scenes. To hear Maria say it, “We were East Nashville before East Nashville was cool.” But not every facet of this community has experienced the type of renaissance exemplified by the explosion of gourmet restaurants and underground recording studios. Doubtless, many East Nashville families made up a large portion of the more than 50,000 Metro Nashville students who apply annually for schools different from those for which their ZIP code assigns them. A couple thousand of these families hold a “winning ticket” to the school of their choice by the end of what Metro Nashville Public Schools glowingly refers to as “Selection Day.” But what about those who do not hit the education lottery jackpot? Maria Vargason fears being one of those many parents holding losing tickets when it’s time for her oldest child, Ambrose, to enter high school. Maria worked for the Ford Motor Credit Company until the birth of her first child, Gus. After that, she left to become a stay-at-home mother and eventually gave birth to three more children. Like many families, the Vargasons considered various factors in deciding where to send their children to school. But when Gus was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at age six, Maria knew in her heart the only answer was to teach her children at home so that they could spend as much time as possible with each other. Tragically, Gus lost his courageous battle in 2011. Since then, Maria has continued to educate her children full-time at home, but she does not plan on home schooling her children all the way through high school. As seventh grader, Ambrose approaches high school age, Maria is already concerned about what to do when the time comes to choose a school. “We’re zoned for bad schools,” Maria says, “but even if we were zoned for good schools, they would not necessarily be a good fit for each of my children.” Maria recognizes that each child is unique, and she appreciates a customized education experience not typically provided by a one-size-fits-all model like public education. Ambrose is “bright, but a late bloomer,” explains Maria, noting that he struggled early with reading comprehension. Learning new things comes easy for his sister, Amelia, has been a member of Centennial Youth Ballet and loves making movies. “She’s very artistic,” Maria says. Their youngest child, Thomas has shown an affinity for baseball and the outdoors, but his temperament requires frequent breaks during school. The Vargasons consider themselves a middle class family, but like many young families they lack the resources to pay for a private high school for their children. They could apply for one of the district’s magnet or charter schools, but if current demand for these schools is any indication, Ambrose’s chances of being selected are less than four percent. As a result, Ambrose, like so many unique children, is simply trapped. To learn more about Beacon’s efforts to advance school choice, click here.