Thanks to school choice, ‘the most amazing opportunities’

school choice
Natasha Infante with her grandmother and mother.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a week-long series of posts from students and parents who’ve benefited from school choice. For yesterday’s story, click HERE.

by Natasha Infante

From the age of 5, I was raised by a single mother. This made finances an issue. My grandmother helped raise me, and she financially supported my mother and me for most of my life. She recently decided to retire – at age 85 – after having been a bookkeeper and accountant since she was 18. She was an important factor in keeping me in school, as well as having a roof over my head. But even she couldn’t do everything.

We’ve turned over redefinED this Thanksgiving to the important voices in ed choice – parents and students.

Fortunately, I received a scholarship that made a difference in my life. It gave me the opportunity to build on the sacrifices of my mother and grandmother, to attend a top-notch school, and to truly pursue my dreams.

I was always dedicated to my schoolwork. My mother kept me in private, magnet, and charter schools all my life. I never attended a typical public school. She wanted to make sure that I was given a quality education that challenged me so I would have more opportunities when I grew up. Unfortunately, I switched schools often due to bullying, so I never really had a steady school life. My mother and grandmother tried to keep everything as stable as possible in my home life so that I would have something to help me feel grounded.

When it came to choosing my high school, my mom wanted to keep me in a private school to give me the best chance of getting into a good college and getting a degree. I passed the placement exams for the major private schools in my area and chose Tampa Catholic High School. The problem was that the tuition was extremely high and my family did not have the means to pay for it by ourselves.

My mom had a period of two years around the recession where she was unemployed and we were relying entirely on my grandmother. My mother was also a bookkeeper and had successfully gained a degree in interior design, hoping to transition into that field. Due to our finances and the job market, that has yet to happen.

This is where the Step Up For Students scholarship came into the picture. It helped pay for most of my tuition; the rest was paid for by grants from my high school due to my academic achievement. I was able to attend all four years of private school for free, which is rare.

I was also offered the most amazing opportunities.

Due to Tampa Catholic’s service-hour requirement, I volunteered at many organizations that I now proudly support. I have been able to network with leaders in my community through those organizations. My high academic achievement earned me membership in five prestigious honor societies in high school. Tampa Catholic truly gave me the individual attention and rigorous coursework that I needed to prepare myself for college and be successful.

My performances on the SAT and ACT earned me the highest Florida Bright Futures scholarship, the Florida Academic Scholars, which funds 100 percent of college tuition and fees. My 3.8 GPA also provided me greater opportunity for scholarships and entrance into collegiate honor societies.

I attended Hillsborough Community College and joined the Honors Institute. It was an incredible experience. I was surrounded by like-minded and scholarly students. I gained a support system and connections within the honors program. The program helped me in the transition from high school to college. I also joined several honor societies within HCC. I became an officer of Phi Theta Kappa and attended several leadership events and professional development conferences. The organization also helped me earn several honors and scholarships, such as being a member of the All-Florida Academic Team.

Through Phi Theta Kappa, I earned a scholarship for my current school, the University of South Florida. I continue to succeed academically and be active in honor societies. I will graduate USF this year with a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a goal of obtaining a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

I have achieved so much since my first semester. I have joined three more honor societies, including Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health honor society where I served as an officer from 2017-2018. I am currently a leader in the Global Citizens Project, an office on campus that inspires students to become more globally focused and culturally aware. Through this program I received a $2,500 scholarship to study over the summer in London and Paris. The rest of my study abroad trip was paid for by a scholarship I received from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars for mentoring a high school student and helping her in the transition to college.

My whole life I have been paying it forward and giving back. I volunteer in my community at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Humane Society of Tampa, Hope Lodge, Metropolitan Ministries, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and so many other organizations that I admire. I give back by helping others who were in my situation and by being a mentor to those who would benefit from my advice and leadership.

I hope my story can inspire others to work toward their dreams, and move people to support the Step Up For Students scholarship so that other high school students can receive the opportunity I was given.

Editor’s note: Step Up For Students publishes this blog.

Coming tomorrow: An atypical learner finds the right fit at a charter school.

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BY Special to NextSteps