With education choice scholarship, parents feel they are doing 'something greater' for Emilio

Feb 22 2024 • By Roger Mooney

APOPKA – The days were long when the family lived up north, when Maria Alvaracin and her husband, Fernando Ramirez, worked two and sometimes three jobs each in one day just to afford rent and food and gas for the car they shared.

Maria cleaned houses and worked the overnight shift at McDonald’s, while Fernando worked in construction and landscaping, and sometimes painted cars.

“You need to start somewhere,” Maria said.

In 2017, they immigrated from their native Ecuador to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and left behind a country in political turmoil to build a better life for their son Emilio. But it was as if the young family was running in place. The ends never seemed to meet.

Emilio has settled into his new life in Florida, where he loves the weather and seeing alligators.

They had family in Florida, and they urged Maria and Fernando to move south, where the cost of living is cheaper, and the weather is much nicer.

So, they packed everything they had from their two-bedroom apartment into a small U-Haul truck and made a three-day drive to Florida before the start of the 2022-23 school year. They settled in Apopka, where they found another perk to raising a family in the Sunshine State – education choice scholarships.

Emilio, 9, attends Central Florida Preparatory School on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) made possible by corporate donations to Step Up For Students, which manages the program.

Emilio is a third grader at CFP, a PK-to-12 private school in Apopka.

An honor roll student who excels in reading and math, Emilio said he loves his school so much he feels he’s going to burst with excitement.

“The education here is great,” he said. “The teachers here are very nice. They’re amazing.”

That is the reaction Maria was hoping for when she and Fernando searched for the right educational setting for their son.

He attended the first grade at his district school in Cambridge, and it was a rough experience.

Emilio has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and it was exacerbated by the large class size, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on the task at hand. Maria wanted fewer distractions that come with a favorable teacher-to-student ratio, hoping that could make the adjustment to life in the new country easier for Emilio.

“We’re trying to do our best for him to empower all his ability and skills, everything he already has, because he’s an amazing kid,” she said.

Emilio? Well, he wants to explore his school's science lab. Upon seeing the room when touring CFP with his parents, Emilio turned to Maria and said, “Mommy, this is my school.”

He’ll have to wait until he reaches middle school before he can take classes in the science lab and join the robotics club. So, Emilio is biding his time by building his own robot at home. He calls it “Fix It,” and it is the prototype for the life-size robot he plans to someday build. Fix It will be able to fetch and fix objects with the press of a button. Maybe, Emilio said, he’ll build Fix It so it can transform into a car.

This kid has big ideas.

“He’s always the light in the room,” Maria said.

Maria loves spending her afternoons helping Emilio with his homework.

On a recent morning, Emilio held court behind the desk in the office of CFP Vice Principal Julia Najera, talking about everything from building robots to his favorite teachers, his project for the school’s International Night program, his desire for a Harry Potter club and his younger brother, Samuel, who just celebrated his third birthday.

“He’s not shy,” Najera said. “He’s very lively. He has a big personality.”

That personality was quashed while Emilio attended school up north. Maria said he was depressed and often cried because he wasn’t doing well in school. Plus, the move from Ecuador to Cambridge was somewhat unsettling for Emilo, and he began to miss his family in his native country.

That changed once the family reached Apopka. They are surrounded by family, and Maria and Fernando were able to find jobs in the fields they worked in Ecuador. Maria works at an advertising agency, and Fernando works in IT.

They found CFP and the nurturing environment that Emilio needed.

“When we think about the culture of CFP, it’s the family feel that we want to create,” Najera said. “Emilio definitely represents that.”

Maria also gave a big assist to the scholarship, because they don’t need to include tuition to a private school in their budget.

“It’s great because we can pay the rent and not have to work two jobs each, and now I can spend more time with Emilio,” she said.

Since Maria works remotely, she has time in the afternoon to help Emilio with his homework. And Maria said she loves helping Emilio with his homework.

“The scholarship is huge,” Maria said. “Emilio is not depressed anymore. He’s not crying every day. For us, it’s a relief because I feel like we’re doing something greater for my son.”

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

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Roger Mooney