Author Archive | Nia Nuñez-Brady

Siblings from Argentina adjust and thrive thanks to school choice scholarships

In a three-year span, Mariel Ubfal’s world fell apart. Her husband died. She moved her family to the United States. Then she watched as her children struggled in school.

The move from Argentina to America came in 2008, three years after Mariel’s husband died from cancer. At the time, all four of her children were under the age of 10. “Leaving was not easy,” Mariel said. “But I knew this was the right decision for my kids.”

Starting over wasn’t easy, either.

Being unemployed and underemployed for the first few years, Mariel struggled to pay bills and, at times, even to feed her kids. As if that wasn’t enough, her children began having behavioral and academic issues in their neighborhood schools – something that never happened in Argentina.

After moving to Miami from Argentina, the Mohadeb kids — Agustin, Barbara, Matias, and Sebastian — attended Hebrew Academy in Miami on Florida tax credit scholarships.

Troubles first hit her three eldest – Matias, Agustin, and Barbara Mohadeb.

Matias hated school because he struggled learning a new language. In eighth grade, he earned D’s and F’s and routinely got into fights. Agustin was held back in sixth grade for poor academics. Barbara failed fifth grade because she did not speak the language.

Mariel felt desperate. She called the school and tried setting up meetings with her sons’ teachers, but that proved difficult.

“Maybe it was the language barrier, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to help my kids succeed at their local school,” she said.

Mariel searched for a better option and found a school that felt like home, but couldn’t afford the tuition. Then a friend told her about the Florida tax credit scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps provide the scholarships to more than 100,000 low-income and working-lcass students.)

It was “the answer to my prayers,” she said.

In 2010, Matias, then 15, and Agustin, then 13, began ninth and seventh grade respectively at Hebrew Academy.

The school is smaller and more family-oriented than their previous schools, Mariel said, and its teachers are more accessible to parents. The curriculum is rigorous and the school has high expectation for student academics and parental involvement, she said.

Progress didn’t happen immediately. Matias’s behavior was terrible in the beginning. At one point, he refused to go to his new school, and Mariel couldn’t get him out of bed. Continue Reading →

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No parent should feel forced to lie about their address for a better school

Thank God the Miami-Dade School Board did not investigate my address.

In 2003, I went to a high school where fighting was widespread and I was lucky if I wasn’t accidentally hit when a brawl broke out in the hallway.

One day, while I was using the ladies room, another girl, who was double my size or at least it felt that way at the time, threatened to bash my head on the wall if I didn’t stop hanging out with a guy she liked. Growing up, my dad always told me, “Your face is too pretty to get into a fight.” So, I said to her: “Please don’t hit me. I’ll stay out of your way.”

She laughed. I went back to class, and tried to focus.

The next day, while walking on the hallway at the school, this same girl grabbed another student close to me. She pushed her against the wall and instigated a fight. The difference between myself and this new student: This girl fought back. The bully wasted no time. She grabbed her Snapple bottle, broke it on the wall, and used a piece of glass to slash the student’s face.

broken glassI was petrified. That could have been me.

I left school early that day, and begged my mom to transfer me to a safer school. I wasn’t worried about the quality of my education. I just wanted to get away from that environment.

My mom and dad had only been in America for four years. Their financial situation was tough, and they didn’t know the system yet. But they knew I had to attend the school where I was assigned, based on where we lived. Continue Reading →

South Orlando school creates a home for Hispanic students

ORLANDO, Fla. – At first glance, the IEC Christian Academy might look like a typical school, but a closer look reveals some distinctive features that match its surrounding community in South Orlando.

IEC Academy Vargas

First-grade students take a Spanish lesson at IEC Academy.

Hispanic food twice a week. English classes for parents. A lawyer who gives free legal advice. The school even has a special fund, called Seeds of Love, which helps parents with various emergencies, like paying their electric bills and filling their gas tanks in times of need.

“At IEC, we are a family, and when a family member struggles, we help,” said Lissette Vazquez, the school’s marketing director.

Parents and teachers at the school, which is affiliated with the church Iglesia el Calvario, say it goes above and beyond to serve a predominantly Hispanic population.

As parents drop off their children in the morning on campus, they are greeted by five staff members who help students get their things into the chapel for morning prayer.

“They help the neediest people. Including my family,” said Maria Rivas, a mother of one who moved from El Salvador nine years ago. “They teach my daughter English, while they explain everything to me in Spanish. That is a blessing,” she added.

In an interview conducted in Spanish, Rivas, who works 32 hours a week as a maid, said she struggles to give her child the necessary $15 a week for lunch, but the school never lets her daughter go hungry.

“We have families who have had no electricity and we have paid for them, we have funds designated as ‘Seeds of Love’ for these instances.” Continue Reading →