Hector and Maria Gonzalez knew something was wrong midway through their daughter Mercedes’ second year at preschool. Mercedes had always been a bright and bubbly girl; now she was sullen and quiet and no longer liked going to school. The Gonzalez’ soon learned Mercedes was being bullied by other students and her teachers had labeled her a troublemaker after defending herself.
Then her teachers delivered some grim news: There was no way Mercedes would be able to keep up academically with her peers.
The couple was devastated, but they knew Mercedes wasn’t the problem. This school was just not a good fit for her.
Mercedes’ class work consisted mostly of coloring and not much learning. The couple immediately began looking for a new school.
“She’s smart, but the environment (at that school)…wasn’t good (for her),” said Hector, a mechanic.
On the advice of friends, Hector and Maria made an appointment to visit Beacon of Hope Christian School and talk with school founder Pastor LaVoy Newton, a familiar face the pair had often seen in the community.
As the couple toured the school, Maria, a homemaker, became certain Beacon of Hope was the perfect school for Mercedes.
“I went into a K4 class and the kids were reading,” she said. “I thought ‘wow, my kid is K5 and she’s not doing that.”
It was the school’s diverse makeup that won over Hector.
“I like that I see all races and languages, and they can respect who she is,” he said.
For Pastor Newton, it was important that Beacon of Hope be culturally and ethnically diverse.
“It’s part of the vision,” he said.
Shortly after their visit, the Gonzalez family made arrangements to transfer Mercedes to Beacon of Hope the following school year with the help of a Step Up For Students Scholarship. Pastor Newton and Principal Mary Whitfield worked with the Gonzalez family to get Mercedes ready to enter school at the same level as her peers.
When school started up again, the girl who once dreaded going to school had disappeared. By the third day, Mercedes was so comfortable at her new school she told her mother she didn’t need her to escort her to class.
Two years later, Mercedes is a top student who loves math and has lots of friends. Now in second grade, the seven-year-old is one of 63 Step Up scholars enrolled at Beacon of Hope.
Mercedes immediately noticed differences between her old school and Beacon of Hope, especially in the classroom. Hours of coloring and little instruction gave way to engaging lessons and caring teachers. Soon, Mercedes was learning how to read.
“I like it here because the teachers are nice to people and it’s fun,” she said.
Mercedes now loves school so much she gets upset when she can’t attend because of holiday breaks.“It is amazing,” Hector said. “We couldn’t do it without Step Up.”
About Beacon of Hope Christian School
Beacon of Hope Christian School was established in 1999 by Pastor LaVoy Newton and his wife Kelli. It opened in September of that year with 18 students. By 2010, Beacon of Hope had more than 100 students enrolled and had graduated its first senior class. Currently, approximately 153 students in grades K-12 attend the school. Annual tuition is $3,630. Beacon of Hope is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Florida League of Christian Schools. The school also is accredited by the Church of God Association of Christian Schools. Student academic progress is evaluated annually using the Stanford Achievement Test.
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