By ROGER MOONEY
ZEPHYRHILLS – Gazing at his 8-year-old granddaughter from across his dining room, George Hill concluded that he and his wife, Robin, have been blessed.
“She’s dedicated. She’s smart. She’s a hard worker,” he said, describing the child who was born addicted to the opioids her mother, who wants nothing to do with her, took while pregnant.
He used another word to describe the child: perseverant.
Because despite her rough start, Skylar Goeb is flourishing. A straight-A student, she attends Heritage Academy, a K2-8 Christian school, on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. (Step Up For Students, which administers the scholarship, hosts this blog.) Last fall, she was one of 10 scholars honored as a Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Month.
Michelle Walls, director of operations and finance at Heritage Academy, said Skylar was nominated because of her leadership qualities, her participation in the community, and her attitude, which aligns perfectly with the goals and spirit of the school.
Skylar’s teacher, Rene Campbell, describes her as shy, kind of reserved.
“When I talk to her, I have to pull things out,” Campbell said.
But learning new things, especially math skills, seems to boost Skylar’s confidence. When asked to come to the front of the class to solve a math problem, the child’s shyness evaporates.
“She has a willing spirit to learn,” Campbell said.
* * *
Skylar certainly is not shy when she’s competing in gymnastics. Displayed on her bedroom walls are 60 medals she’s won, including a fifth-place at last year’s state championships.
Her favorite room in the house is across the hall, painted light blue, empty except for her gymnastics equipment: a horizontal bar 4 feet above a beige carpet, a balance beam raised a few inches off the floor, a pink mat, and two plastic bins that hold the white chalk she dusts on her hands to give her a better grip.
Skylar, a blonde-haired pixie who loves all things pink and adores unicorns, spends hours practicing gymnastics. The Hills enrolled her in her first class when she was 3. They knew by the time she was 5 that gymnastics would be more than an after-school activity for her.
“She loves competition,” George Hill said. “Some girls get nervous. She’s like, ‘Let’s go!’ ”
Skylar’s dream is to compete in the Olympics. She began training in early January in Fast Track, a program designed for kids with natural gymnastics ability, strength and flexibility. She also participates in the Talent Opportunity Program, a national talent search and educational organization for 7- to 10-year-old female gymnasts.
“Skylar is very dedicated,” her coach, Jacqueline Vogel, said. “I actually don’t know if she’s ever missed a practice intentionally unless it was for something for school.”
Skylar practices 13 hours a week over four nights at Premier Gymnastics in Wesley Chapel, but answered promptly when her grandmother asks her what comes first, school or gymnastics.
“School,” Skylar said.
Despite always being on the run, the second-grader keeps her grades up.
“When we get in the car, she brings her book and makes up math problems,” Robin Hill said. “She has a mind for numbers.”
“She has a great memory, too,” added her grandfather. “That helps.”
George Hill said Skylar is getting everything she can out of her Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “It’s placed her in the best learning environment she can be in. It also got her in a Christian school, which is important to us.”
* * *
George Hill, 64, is an engineer with Frontier Communications where he’s worked for 31 years. Robin Hill, 63, retired after working more than 20 years at the Pizza Hut in nearby Brandon.
After raising four children, the Hills hadn’t planned on bringing up a grandchild. But Skylar’s father, Steven Hill, is finishing a seven-year prison sentence for a series of crimes he committed with Skylar’s mom. Skylar’s grandparents take her to visit him at a transitional housing facility in Tarpon Springs.
“She knows who he is. We don’t try to hide anything,” George Hill said. “They get along super great. They play together when she’s there. They’re good together.”
Skylar’s mom, who served an 18-month prison term, tried to put her up for adoption before giving birth. The Hills hired a lawyer and successfully prevented it. They received court-ordered legal custody of Skylar when she was 8 weeks old.
Skylar calls them Mom and Dad.
Steven Hill, who is slated for prison release in October, may soon come back into Skylar’s life.
“We’ll see how that goes,” George Hill said.
What the Hills know without a doubt is that they couldn’t have imagined the profound change Skylar would have on their lives.
“I think it’s a blessing. Really, I do,” George Hill said. “For sure, she keeps you young.”
About Heritage Academy
Founded in 1998 under the ministry of Oasis World Outreach, Heritage Academy is a K2-8 school that serves 160 students, including 54 on Florida Tax Credit scholarships. The school uses the Abeka curriculum and education is based on Biblical principles. The curriculum consists of reading, writing, comprehension, study skills, critical thinking, problem solving, and number skills. Spanish, art, music and physical education also are offered. Annual tuition is $6,080 for K2-K3; $3,610 for K4-VPK; $6,500 for K5-fifth grade; $6,800 for sixth-eighth grade. Before and after school care and tutoring are available for a fee.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.