How did the Hope Scholarship impact Nick? 'It changed his life'
BY ROGER MOONEY
Nick Guiley is in high school now, far away from the classmates who tormented him during middle school and made going to school so miserable that one morning, he refused to leave the safety of his father’s car and enter the building.
Nick, 16, attends a magnet school with a technology-based curriculum. He loves learning about coding, Photoshop, and video editing.
He wants to attend the University of Central Florida and study computer science with the goal of earning a master’s degree.
He has a job at a local supermarket and a learner’s permit to drive.
He takes classes in Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art.
Life is good.
“(The scholarship) changed his life,” said Lisa Guiley, Nick’s mom. “It got him through those really rough years when he needed to be in private school.”
The Hope Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students, allows parents of children who are bullied in public schools to find new learning environments at another district school or at a participating private school away from the bullies.
Nick landed at Lake Forrest Preparatory School in Maitland, not far from the family’s home in Altamonte Springs. There, he found smaller class sizes that enabled him to make connections with his classmates and his teachers.
Though he is no longer on the scholarship, Nick said it made an invaluable impact on his life.
“It helped improve my self-esteem and definitely lowered my anxiety,” Nick said. “I was able to complete middle school on the Hope Scholarship, and by the time I reached high school, I was more mentally and socially prepared for a larger public school.
“I even started working at Publix at the age of 15 because my self-confidence was that much better.”
Nick was physically bullied by two boys in his middle school. He tried to avoid them by spending entire days at the guidance office. They would find him, though. Nick recalled being nervous and edgy while wondering where and when the attacks would happen.
Lisa and her husband, Todd, were unaware of this. They sensed something was troubling Nick. His anxiety level was high, and his heartbeat would, at times, reach 140 beats per minute. They took Nick to a cardiologist, who said it wasn’t physical. They took Nick to a therapist, who thought the anxiety was related to Nick having Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary, repetitive movements and vocalizations.
The root of the problem remained undiscovered until the morning in sixth grade when Nick wouldn’t get out of the car for school. He began to cry and then told his dad everything.
“There were two boys who, literally, every chance they got, would hurt him,” Lisa said. “He was so afraid. He wouldn’t even tell us. In his mind, all he would think was, ‘I can’t go to school.’”
The Guileys enrolled Nick in a private school near their home for the seventh grade. Things began well, but the bullying returned in a different form. At this time, Nick had developed coprolalia, a Tourette syndrome tic that causes involuntary swearing and inappropriate language.
“Come to find out, he was hanging out with a group of kids who were pretty much emotionally bullying him,” Lisa said. “They encouraged him to cuss, and they would tell on him for doing it. They were pretending to be his friends.”
That’s’ when Lisa and Todd learned of the Hope Scholarship and began to look for another private school that would provide a sanctuary for their son. They picked Lake Forrest Preparatory School, an infants-through-eighth grade private school.
Nick enrolled in January of that year. Before the first week was over, he knew he was in the right school when students began calling him by his name when they said, “Hi.”
Todd couldn’t find the words to express how relieved he was that Nick was in a safe environment that was conducive to learning. Todd finally settled on one word: “Awesome.” He then joked that Nick would complain when he couldn’t go to school.
It was Nick’s decision to attend the magnet school. The technology-based subjects were too much of a lure.
His favorite classes this year are marine science, AP psychology, and digital design. The class sizes are not big, and Nick likes the fact that students wear uniforms.
“He’s with like-minded classmates,” Lisa said.
Nick expects to dual-enroll during his senior year at Seminole State College of Florida in nearby Sanford.
He’s at the age where he’s pondering life after school. A cyber security career in the military? A marine biologist? Coding?
Lisa and Todd are thrilled to hear Nick discuss such things. It’s a complete 180 degrees from the darkness that shadowed him before they learned of the Hope Scholarship.
“Absolutely,” Lisa said. “He was being bullied so bad, his anxiety was so bad, we could not even get him to go to school. He probably would have been completely hospital-homebound for a long time. He was that bad.
“And once we got the scholarship, and we're able to look around and find the perfect school, the perfect match for him, and he excelled. He really did. His confidence level went up.
“You know, he just really changed. It changed his life.”
Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at email@example.com.