Parents choose the school, son rises to the challenge

Editor’s note: Behind all the blog posts about school choice policies and politics, there are real kids and families who benefit from vouchers, tax credit scholarships, charter schools and other expanded learning options. This morning we highlight a student profiled by the talented folks in the Step Up For Students marketing department. This blog is proudly affiliated with Step Up, the non-profit that administers tax credit scholarships to 39,000 low-income students in Florida.

When Luis Aponte Jr. was profiled as an eighth grader for Step Up For Students in 2007, he dreamt of becoming a pursuing a college education.  Now in 2012, there’s no denying that he has achieved his dream and more.

Luis’ graduation from Liberty Christian Academy in 2011 marked the culmination of years of academic diligence, hard work and perseverance: he was the valedictorian of his senior class.

Throughout his school career – first at a neighborhood school and later in private school – Luis made it a priority to study hard and earn top grades. While other students may have been satisfied with earning A’s and B’s, Luis was determined to never see anything lower than an A on his report card.

True to his goal, Luis left Liberty as one of its few students to earn straight A’s, said Lynda Fleming, his former guidance counselor. “He was hardest on himself,” she said. “He’s definitely a peer model for several students, still.”

Luis’ father knew from his own experiences in life that not all schools can fulfill the needs of each child, and he was eager to give his son the opportunity to achieve his dreams. Luis, Sr., grew up attending neighborhood schools. His parents dreamed of sending him to private school, but couldn’t afford the tuition. After years of longing, though, his parents finally were able to send him to private school during his senior year of high school. That one year was a life-changing experience for Luis Sr. that he knew he wanted someday for his children.

Unfortunately it seemed that Luis, Jr. and his brother Jonach would never get the chance to attend a private school and fulfill their father’s dream. But in 2002, Luis, Sr. and his wife Carmen learned that the family met the program’s qualifications and the boys were enrolled in a private school as Step Up scholars. Luis’ parents saw this as an opportunity to put him in a private school that would provide a challenging learning environment – something they did not feel he was receiving in the public school system. 

At the time, Luis, Jr. was a fourth-grader who performed well at his neighborhood school. When he entered his new learning environment at Blue Lake Christian Academy, he rose to the academic challenges he faced and accomplished more than he ever thought he could.

“He put more effort into his schoolwork,” Luis Sr., said. “It was a challenge.”

When he was in the eighth grade, Luis, Jr. transferred to Liberty Christian, where he continued to excel. By the time he was a senior, Luis, Jr. was balancing classes at school with dual-enrollment at the local community college, working up to 30 hours a week at a grocery store, and playing point guard on the school’s basketball team.

Luis, Jr. also was engaged in a friendly battle with another honor student for valedictorian – his girlfriend. By graduation, he had surpassed her for the top spot by .2 percentage points.

Luis, Jr. said the small, family-like environments of the schools that he attended on the scholarship enabled him to build close relationships with his schoolmates and teachers and to do well academically. “(With the students), you become like brothers and sisters,” he said. “You end up being a role model because little kids are always around you, looking up to you.”

Today, Luis, Jr. is studying radiology at the College of Central Florida. He looks forward to graduating from school, starting his career, and making that competitive girl from high school his wife. It’s a life that Step Up For Students helped make possible. “I can’t imagine not going to private school,” he said. “It really was a great opportunity.”

About Liberty Christian Academy

Liberty Christian Academy in Tavares, Fla. was founded by the Liberty Baptist Church in 1987, and serves students from prekindergarten to 12th grade. Approximately 181 students attend Liberty Christian, 64 of whom receive Step Up For Students Scholarships. Tuition is $4,500, and Liberty Christian Academy gauges students’ progress by administering the Stanford Achievement Test (Stanford 10). Liberty Christian is accredited by the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (FACCS).

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BY Special to NextSteps