After a decade of their son using a Step Up For Students scholarship, Lisa and Michael Schroeder wanted another student to benefit from the opportunity.
So with their family-owned radio station back on solid ground, the couple decided not to reapply for the tuition assistance that helped keep their son, Derek, enrolled at Trinitas Christian School in Pensacola since kindergarten.
“Things were turning around for us, financially,’’ Lisa said.
But shortly after Derek began his sophomore year in 2011, his father, who managed the radio station, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died three months later.
“Everything went upside down,’’ recalled Lisa, who works as a special events coordinator at the small private school that graduated her two older sons (who weren’t on scholarship).
While the new widow struggled emotionally, she also faced growing financial challenges that threatened Derek’s future at Trinitas.
“We thought we were going to have to change schools, and I would have to change jobs,’’ said Lisa, who knew her school would try to help – but she didn’t want to create a hardship for them.
Instead, Derek was able to regain the scholarship and remain in the school where teachers and students are like a second family. He received his diploma in May with 13 other seniors, many of whom he had known since he was 5.
With all the turmoil in his life, “this definitely made a very huge difference,’’ said Derek, now 18. “Staying in that school would have been the decision I would have wanted to make and with (Step Up’s) help, I was able to stay to the end. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten the full experience of Trinitas.’’
And it was the experience of a lifetime, said Derek, who, with a 3.6 GPA, was elected to the National Honor Society his senior year.
He immersed himself in the school’s classical Christian teachings that blend traditional courses, such as English, math and history, with the Bible through the trivium – a systematic method of learning relying on logic and rhetoric to help promote critical thinking.
For instance, students study Plato and Aristotle to understand the mechanics of a good debate.
But there still was plenty of time for sports, like soccer, where Derek started off on the bench.
“We were young and small,’’ he said. “And we lost all of our games.’’
But the “sweeper’’ and the rest of his teammates got better, he said, prompting Derek to try basketball. But a professional sports career probably isn’t the path Derek will pursue. Instead, the family’s musical roots keep calling.
His grandfather, Gerald “Papa Don” Schroeder, is a former record producer, radio personality, singer and songwriter who still owns WPNN AM 790 in Pensacola. He produced hit singles in the ‘60s and ‘70s by R&B performers.
“I sing in the shower,’’ joked Derek, whose uncle runs the station now.
Derek plays the piano, having taken lessons as a child. He likes the idea of doing something in the music field, but for now he’s finishing out the summer working at the lawn care business he started with his brothers and helping coach soccer at Trinitas.
In the fall, Derek begins his freshman year at the liberal arts school, New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho.
“It will be hard to leave,’’ Derek said. “I’m sure I’ll be homesick.’’
But he’s traveling with two Trinitas classmates and joining another school family from Florida already attending St. Andrews.
“I’ll have instant friends,’’ Derek said.
Trinitas Christian School is a nondenominational K-12 school that teaches in the classical tradition, coordinating lessons with the stages of child development. Instruction is focused largely on the development of critical thinking skills with an emphasis on logic and rhetoric. Students study Latin and read the classics. Of the 187 students enrolled in 2013-14, 35 were Step Up scholars. Academic achievement is measured by the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP). Trinitas is accredited by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) and Christian Schools of Florida.
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