Education choice scholarship a 'humongous blessing' for straight-A student Briana

Feb 9 2024 • By Roger Mooney

The first quarter academic awards ceremony at Grace Christian School was coming to an end, and Lynette Thomas had yet to hear her daughter’s name called.

Briana Thomas had enrolled at the pre-K-to-8 faith-based private school in Ocala as a sixth-grader that August and had aced every test. Lynette thought it was odd Briana hadn’t been recognized.

Not really.

There was still one more award to go.

High Honor Roll for kids with all A’s.

A name was called. Briana Thomas.

“I cried,” Lynette said. “I was not expecting that.”

Briana has been on the honor roll every quarter since enrolling in Grace Christian School in the sixth grade.

Lynette enrolled her three children at Grace Christian School at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year with the help of Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Opportunities (FES-EO), managed by Step Up For Students.

“It's a big help because if I didn't have this scholarship, it would be something that I absolutely couldn't afford,” said Lynette, a single mom who works in catering.

“It’s a humongous blessing, and (my children) don't take it for granted. They always tell me, ‘You know, we're so blessed to have received that scholarship.’ And Briana is always like, ‘Mom, I'm gonna make you proud.’ ”

Briana, now an eighth-grader, plans to attend Trinity Catholic High School in the fall. She is already researching colleges and has talked about a career as a veterinarian, doctor, or photographer.

Lynette calls Briana “my little Einstein.”

“It’s like her mind is on steroids,” Lynette said.

“I’m one of those students who strives and thrives to get straight A’s,” Briana said. “My grades are very important because the higher grades you get, the higher you achieve in life. I try my very hardest to get the best grades because that’s what colleges are looking for.”

When asked what she likes most about her school, Briana said, “The dedication, passion, and commitment to education shown by the teachers. I appreciate them.”

This made her mom chuckle.

“Normally kids are afraid to speak with the principal and assistant principal, but they are super nice and have built a relationship with every student,” Lynette said. “They’re the best.”

Lynette Thomas calls Briana "My little Einstein."

Lynette admitted she had more than a little anxiety when she enrolled Briana, Omari (now in the fifth grade), and Madison (second grade) at Grace Christian. It has everything she was looking for in a school: a faith-based curriculum and the favorable teacher-to-student ratio that come with smaller class sizes.

But …

“I was scared to death,” Lynette said. “I didn’t know if my child would excel in private school.”

That fear was quickly put to rest. Briana has been on the honor roll every quarter. That’s 10 and counting. Not surprisingly, she’s a member of the National Junior Honor Society.

“She’s a very bright child,” said Debbie Bruni, Grace Christian’s Admissions Director & Events Coordinator.

Omari and Madison are also doing well academically.

Briana (percussions) and Omari (euphonium) are in the band at the Riley Arts Center in Ocala. Briana also plays basketball, volleyball and swims.

Lynette’s children attended their district school before the COVID pandemic. She tried homeschooling during the pandemic but admitted it wasn’t ideal. After learning about the FES-EO scholarship, she began a tour of private schools in the Ocala area.

Grace Christian was the last school on her list. Bruni was the tour guide, and it was her advice that sold Lynette.

“I tell everybody who visits, please go visit other schools because you have to make this decision with your heart, not your head,” Bruni said. “It’s one of the biggest decisions you're going to make for your child's life. They're here most of the day, and we are a family here. We all work together. We love and nurture these children and bring them up in Christ and you’ll see your child blossom.”

Lynette was sold.

All three of Lynette's children are thriving academically at Grace Christian.

“The staff at Grace Christian is amazing,” Lynette said. “Sometimes I cry, and I call them, and I'm like, ‘Thank you guys so much for taking excellent care of my babies.’ ”

Sometimes Lynette makes the staff cry, like the morning after she drove the children to school and told Bruni that during the ride, they were laughing and singing hymns.

“They want to go to school,” Lynette told Bruni.

“We hear that a lot,” Bruni said. “We help to bring them up as better people.”

Briana said she entered Grace Christian with the typical nerves that come with attending a new school. Will I make friends? Will I be able to handle the work? Much like her mother, that anxiety didn’t last long.

She was invited to sit at a table for lunch during her first day. Friendships were made.

Briana said she loves the faith-based atmosphere at school. Students pray every day and attend church once a week. She has received the school’s Light of Christ Award every year.

She also likes the class trips – Washington, D.C. in the sixth grade and camping in the seventh.

And she likes being challenged academically.

“Sometimes her friends invite her out and she tells them, ‘No. I have to finish my homework,’ ” Lynette said. “If it wasn’t for the scholarship, she would never get to go to that school. It’s amazing to see her do so well.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney