Editor’s note: This first-person essay from Florida mother Juanita Fugate debuted on the American Federation for Children’s Voices for Choice website.
My daughter started having trouble with school around the time she entered middle school. Her grades, and consequently her behavior, started to take a turn for the worse.
The little girl who once begged me to go to school began to hate it with a passion. Ashley would come home frustrated and when I asked her about the school, she would just get angry for what seemed like no reason at all.
At one point, her grades had become so bad that we were called for a conference with all seven of her teachers. Two of them thought that my daughter could bring her grades up, but the others had already given up on her.
Kids can tell when an adult has given up on them, and nobody wants to feel like a burden, so Ashley asked to transfer to her cousin’s school.
This school was supposed to be a sort of “catch up” school for kids who had failed elsewhere. Unfortunately, most of the teachers here labeled these kids as helpless due to their behavioral issues, and Ashley was one of them.
At the same time, Ashley was going through some personal issues with her birth mother and at home, and she acted out at school. I would get calls from the school about her being put on “in-school suspension,” skipping class, getting into fights, cursing at her teachers, and drawing graffiti on the walls and desks.
I couldn’t even talk to Ashley about this because she would scream at me or stay at a friend’s house for weeks at a time. The principal, Mr. Thomas, prevented some of her suspensions and tried to help her, but he could only do so much. I had no idea what to do, and I was afraid that my daughter would get herself into trouble that she wouldn’t be able to get out of.
I am 77 years old. When I adopted Ashley, her brother, and her cousin, I was entering my retirement years. Nobody wanted to hire an old lady, so money was not easy to come by, but I knew that my babies needed me, and that they needed to stay together.
So, despite being low-income and living off government programs, we made it work. But there is no possible way that I could have afforded the tuition cost for a private school. This is the case for a lot of families like ours, and I hope that no parent has to see their child suffer because their zip code or income limits them to a school where they cannot thrive.
Ashley had one great solace at her former school, and it was an English teacher named Mrs. Perez. This teacher could see that my child needed somebody other than her mother to believe in her, and she invested in her. I don’t know exactly how, but Mrs. Perez was able to help get my daughter back on the right track.
With Mrs. Perez’s help, Ashley’s grades improved, and she won second place in a county-wide essay competition.
We were devastated when we received news that Mrs. Perez and Mr. Thomas would be transferring to a private school, Victory Christian Academy. The real surprise came when Mrs. Perez asked Ashley to transfer to this school and told us about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Ashley applied and started her junior year of high school at Victory.
In her first semester, there was an instant change in my daughter’s demeanor, grades, and confidence. I no longer received calls about bad behavior or skipping class. Instead, those calls were replaced with awards ceremonies and track meets.
This school was the third one we had tried in four years, but it was the first school that was like a family. Ashley needed teachers who cared and would work with her when she had problems, not dismiss her. At Victory, every teacher was like that.
My daughter graduated from Victory with honors, graduated from Valencia College with her AA, and now she is in her senior year at the University of Central Florida. I have no idea where Ashley would be without the scholarship she received, but statistics show that she should not have even graduated high school.