An education choice scholarship helped JR be all that he can be
BY ROGER MOONEY
PLANTATION, Florida – There was no way William “JR” Moreland was taking AP Language and Composition as a junior, or so he thought. He heard it was hard, harder than Honors English, which he aced.
“The difference between honors (classes) and AP is completely night and day,” JR said. “You think it’s one step up. No. it’s completely night and day. There was no way I was going to do well in that class.”
But the teachers at Westminster Academy, a private PK-12 school in Fort Lauderdale, can be very persuasive. Despite his pleas to not take the course and, yes, he admitted, some begging, JR was told, “You’re absolutely doing it.”
And he absolutely did.
He aced it.
“That’s my greatest accomplishment in school,” he said.
JR, 17, graduated this spring in the top 10 of his class from Westminster, which he attended since sixth grade on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship made possible by donations to Step Up For Students. Before that, JR attended Gateway Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale on the FTC scholarship.
“I do understand that without the scholarship I wouldn’t be where I am,” JR said, “so I don’t take that for granted.”
The Army recently resurrected its “Be All You Can Be” slogan. JR said the teachers and administrators at Westminster expect the same from the students.
“Even when you don’t see the potential in yourself, they see the potential in you. It just elevates you to want to do better,” JR said.
That is why his mother, Yanique Dunkley, wanted a private school education for her four children. In addition to JR, there is Maleah, who just finished the seventh grade at Fort Lauderdale Preparatory Academy; Mason, who enters the fifth grade next year at Westminster; and Myles, who will be a second-grader at Gateway Christian Academy. Each receive a Florida Tax Credit scholarship.
Yanique wanted a faith-based education and low teacher-to-student ratio that comes with smaller class sizes. She wanted her children to be challenged academically.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said.
A native of Portmore, Jamaica, who moved to the United States when she was 16, Yanique is a social worker and big proponent of education choice.
Her sister, Lisa Dunkley, is a member of the Florida House of Representatives. She is a Democrat who supports education choice.
“She’s seen what the scholarship has done for her nieces and nephews, so with that, it makes her a great advocate for it,” Yanique said. “She’s seen the end product.”
All of Yanique’s children are thriving at their private schools. Mason won the school spelling bee at Westminster in March. JR, a member of the honor roll during his time at Westminster, received the AP Scholar Award and the Christian Character Award during graduation. He is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars.
“My view is if they’re going to use (the scholarships), they’re going to use it well,” Yanique said. “We’re not going to take it for granted. No. So, when they do perform well, it proves that Step Up is great.”
JR said his siblings push each other to do well in school. He quizzed Mason the night before the spelling bee. One of the words on the flash cards was “fumatorium,” which, as it turned out, was the word Mason spelled correctly to win the competition.
“We have a standard in the family,” JR said. “Do your best. If your best is a B, OK, but if you’re getting a B and your potential is A, well then, you need to get an A.”
Through his government class at school, JR traveled to Washington, D.C., this past winter. He met Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears. That led to him meeting Ben Carson, the former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Alveda King, a former state representative from Georgia and the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., at a Black History Month event near JR’s home.
“Not only does Step Up allow me to afford sending my children to private schools, it gives them exposure to the different academic things that are out there,” Yanique said. “Even the Washington trip, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime privilege and it opened other doors, because meeting with Winsome Earle-Sears opened the doors to meeting Ben Carson and Alveda King.”
JR called the United States the “land of opportunity.” For proof, he looks no further than his mom and his stepfather, Marlon Chisholm. Both are from Jamaica, and both immigrated to South Florida looking for a better opportunity. Yanique attended Broward College and Florida Atlantic University. Marlon, after serving in the Army, is attending Broward College.
“My stepdad is a big inspiration to me,” JR said. “Some of the things that are instilled in him I’d like to have instilled in me. I feel a big connection to this country. It’s apparent without this country I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Marlon is the reason JR plans on entering the Army after college. But first, JR plans to attack his education at UCF with the same passion he did at Westminster.
“I am looking forward to the next four years of my life,” he said. “I have to make the most of them.”
Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].