By Jenny Conrad
Bishop Luers High School student Gabby Durnell is thankful, and her grateful spirit permeates her commentary on high school life. She recently earned a $1,000 award from the Institute for Quality Education for her essay submission to their “Voices for Choices” competition. This essay contest is typically reserved for parents. Gabby was the only student in the state of Indiana to submit an essay and is one of three awardees. Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne also received a matching prize. Along with her parents, principal Jim Huth and admissions director Jenny Andorfer, Gabby will travel to Indianapolis to attend a breakfast with Governor Eric Holcomb and state legislature representatives at the end of the month in recognition of her award.
Her gratitude extends well beyond scholarship recognition or monetary awards. Gabby is passionate about the Indiana School Choice program and what it has meant for her family and her high school education.
Gabby’s path to Bishop Luers began while she was still in middle school. She grew up in the Southwest Allen County School district, but sensed that, as high school approached, she needed a change. “I wanted a school that teaches Christian values and pushed students academically and athletically. And I wanted a greater diversity of all types – income levels, beliefs, backgrounds, ethnicity … a place where everyone doesn’t necessarily think the same way or come from the same type of background. I heard good things about Bishop Luers and started to check it out.”
Her parents were open to investigating the school as well. Victoria Durnell remembers her husband, Jason, who grew up in Fort Wayne, telling her that Bishop Luers always had a very good reputation. Together with Gabby, the Durnells decided to visit the school. Victoria stated, “I was impressed from the beginning – the class size, academics, teachers and staff impressed me. And everyone was so personable, you couldn’t help but feel warm and welcomed. Our top priority was putting Gabby where she would grow spiritually, academically and athletically. We believed Bishop Luers would be a good fit.”
Once their decision was made, the enrollment process began. But shortly after, they hit a roadblock. Gabby recalls the situation. “The pandemic came and my mom lost her job. Now with only one income, my parents didn’t know how we could afford private school tuition,” she said. “So, sadly, my parents made the decision they would call the admissions director and let her know I wouldn’t be coming.”
Victoria still remembers making that phone call to Andorfer, and how hard it was to say that Gabby wasn’t coming to Bishop Luers.
“I poured everything out in that phone call. It was so emotional for me,” Victoria said. “I kept saying ‘we want her there, but I just don’t know how we can do this.’ And I didn’t want to take up a spot that could go to another student, so we decided to stop the enrollment process. Mrs. Andorfer just listened, then said to me, ‘We can find a way to make this happen.’”
Andorfter also recalls that conversation. “At the time, I told her we’d do everything we could to help them. I knew she truly believed this was the best place for Gabby and we never want to turn a child away due to financial circumstances,” she said.
So she sat down with Gretchen Steele, the tuition manager at Bishop Luers, and evaluated any financial aid the Durnells might qualify for, including the School Choice voucher. After that, Victoria, thrilled that there were available resources, applied for everything she could. She praised Andorfer for providing her with scholarship information and walking them through the process. Finally, they had enough financial aid to enroll Gabby. Victoria commented, “The whole process renewed our faith in people and their willingness to help. We had no doubt then, or now, that this was the kind of place we wanted Gabby to be.”
Andorfer’s message to the Durnells is the same one she wants to share with every family; to reach out to the school with questions or concerns, and they would be happy to provide assistance.
Thankful to begin her freshman year of high school, Gabby jumped right into student life. She became a cheerleader and joined the track team. But the biggest impact on Gabby came in a different way – her religion class. She remarked, “I already considered myself a Christian, but didn’t really know much about my faith, so my knowledge really grew as I learned so much in class.” Her freshman retreat played a big role in her faith journey. “I saw how much everyone’s faith meant to them and how much they cared about it. I decided I wanted to become Catholic myself so I could receive the Eucharist.”
Gabby believes faith is a key part of the “Luers spirit” she loves. “I think ‘Luers spirit’ to me is always trying your best at everything you do, being kind to everyone and being devoted to your faith,” she said.
Victoria agrees. “The entire school community – staff, students, alumni, everybody – is a big family. You can talk to anyone and you feel accepted and welcomed.”
Now midway through her sophomore year, Gabby’s gratitude for her opportunity to shine at Bishop Luers continues to grow and she feels strongly that other students should have the same opportunity. “All families should be able to attend the right school for them and their child.”
“Without school choice and scholarships, things would be a lot different for me. I am so thankful.”
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