Education choice scholarship helps fuel Mia's dreams of Ivy League college and med school
BY ROGER MOONEY
JACKSONVILLE – Mia Boka’s father, Steve, was a giant of a man, standing 6-foot-6 with a personality just as large.
He was demanding but fair with his children, instilling structure in their daily lives with constant reminders to study hard, work hard and always do their best.
“Speak up and he heard,” Mia said he told them. “That’s how you get ahead in life.”
Steve passed away at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year after a lengthy fight with esophageal cancer. His last years were difficult, but Steve managed to move his family from Mexico to Jacksonville and enroll 16-year-old Mia, his youngest, at Bishop Kenny High School. She attends the Catholic school with the help of a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship made possible by corporate donations to Step Up for Students.
“I definitely miss Mexico,” Mia said, “but I definitely think this is a good environment for future opportunities.”
Mia, a junior, has big plans for her future: study biology at the University of Pennsylvania, attend medical school and become a surgeon.
“My dad was really smart,” Mia said. “He went to Penn, but he never got to graduate, so I want to in some sort of way complete his goal.”
Steve was born in New York and moved around the United States before heading to Mexico and settling in Tijuana, Baja California, located on the Pacific coast. He was the director of a construction firm. In 2020, he moved the family to Jacksonville for a business opportunity with family members who lived in the area.
Truth be told, Mia always wanted to attend high school in the United States. She watched enough TV shows and movies centered around American high schools that she was intrigued. She also had designs on attending an American college.
Her dad told Mia he just didn’t know how he could make that work.
Even when the business opportunity in Jacksonville made that move possible, Mia and her two older sisters still found it hard to leave Mexico. They had to say goodbye to the only life they knew – their home, their friends, their school. It’s an uneasy transition for any kid, especially a trio of teenage girls.
“We had a pretty good life, and moving is like losing everything,” Mia said.
Mia’s parents are Catholic, and her mom, Maria, attended Catholic schools. She wanted the same for her daughters.
“That’s a big thing in Mexico. That’s the base of the culture,” Mia said. “If you don’t have faith, what do you have?”
But because of Steve’s health, the family could not afford to send Mia to a Catholic high school when they arrived in Jacksonville. She began her freshman year at her assigned district school but found the transition difficult. She was not being challenged academically as she had been in Mexico. Her old school required the students to learn in both Spanish and English.
“We had to know English,” Mia said. “My dad said it would open so many doors in the future and, obviously, it did.”
The family attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville. A priest there, knowing of their desire to send Mia to a Catholic school, contacted Bishop Kenny. It was the middle of the school year, and even though Kenny was at capacity, the school created a spot for another freshman. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship helped with tuition, and Mia found herself in transition again.
“Kenny is a lot like my old school,” she said. “Once I got here, I started to get challenged. I think it was a hard transition, but it got easier.”
Mia joined the volleyball program this year in an effort to expand her social circle and to possibly earn a scholarship to help with her college tuition. She earned a starting role on the junior varsity team in the fall. She now competes on Kenny’s beach volleyball team.
Nicole Hurtt, who teaches English II Honors, said Mia was one of the hardest-working students in her class last year.
“I’ve never heard her make an excuse for anything. She’s never once asked for favors,” Hurtt said. “She’s a very, very dedicated student. I think she does it silently in honor of her dad. The strength she has is remarkable.”
Hurtt said she wouldn’t be surprised if Mia returned to Kenny’s campus in a dozen years having achieved her goals of attending Penn and becoming a doctor.
“Some kids know what they want to do, but she is very calm and confident about it. She’s very focused on what she wants to do,” Hurtt said. “I think when she wants to do something, she does it. It’s really great to see.”
Steve’s passing left a huge void in the family that Maria works hard to fill. Mia calls her mom “my best friend.”
“I tell her everything. There are no secrets,” Mia said. “I can’t go a day where I hide something from her, and I won’t. I always tell her. She’s very understanding. She does a great job as a mom.”
Maria, who cleans houses to support her family, and her daughters live about 15 minutes south of Kenny’s campus. Maria drives Mia to school every morning. With the help of a caring priest and a school willing to make the room, Maria and Mia experienced the benefits of an education choice scholarship.
Said Mia, “Once we got here, my dad said, ‘See? You got your dream.’”
Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at email@example.com.