By JEFF BARLIS
Tatianna Mondesir used to pull her hair down over her face in class. She was trying to hide, trying to avoid being called upon to answer questions she knew she would get wrong.
“When I got a wrong answer, people would laugh at me,” said the normally vibrant girl with the long braids. “I didn’t understand as well as them.”
In her zoned neighborhood school, she was earning C’s, D’s and F’s in third grade and was in danger of being retained. She managed to scrape by, but her pediatrician had advice for her mother: Look into the Step Up For Students scholarship for low-income students. Consider a private school that might give Tatianna a better chance to learn and grow.
The next year, at Abundant Life Christian Academy in Margate, Tatianna was still struggling and hiding behind her hair. But now no one laughed when she couldn’t produce the answers.
Tatianna Mondesir graduated from eighth grade at Abundant Life Christian Academy in Margate last spring.
This was the start of a transformation.
“The teachers and my classmates supported me,” said Tatianna, now a ninth-grader. “In fourth grade and fifth grade I struggled a lot, because I wasn’t on the same level as other kids. But I improved to getting C’s.”
Smaller classes, after-school tutoring, and extra attention from her teachers helped. But nothing made as big an impact, Tatianna said, as the compassion and encouragement she felt all around her.
Finally, she had hope, which began to turn into belief in herself.
“When she came to sixth grade, she was still a year behind,” said history teacher Laura Hennebery. “But she was really working hard.”
And wanting more. Quarter after quarter, Tatianna watched her friends go up on stage for an honor roll ceremony while she sat alone next to their empty chairs. She became obsessed with making honor roll, too.
At the end of the fourth quarter, she thought she was there. But when she and her mom, Karen, met with her math teacher, she learned she was short by a single point.
“I had a 79,” Tatianna recalled. “I was so happy! I thought she was going to round up, but she didn’t. My mom asked her if I could have extra credit so I could make the honor roll, but she wouldn’t let me. She said I should have done the extra credit that was available (during the school year). But I never did that, which was a mistake.”
Tatianna was upset at first. But her teachers continued to be supportive. And the next year, her determination kicked into higher gear.
She wrote down her goals for seventh grade: Work harder. Study more. Participate in class. Read more books. Do all the extra credit. Make honor roll.
Tatianna also changed her hairstyle, wearing a headband to hold her hair back. A beautiful smile emerged with her confidence.
To everyone around her, the change was obvious.
“When she first came to school and even through sixth grade, she was very quiet, kept to herself,” Ms. Hennebery said. “She just didn’t want anyone giving her any kind of attention. … You’d ask her a question and she would just shake her head, ‘No, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that.’ ”
But now Tatianna was involved with school activities, participating in class – and meeting her goals.
She got all A’s and B’s and made honor roll all four quarters. At the end of the year, she was on stage shaking hands with principal Stacy Angier, who gave her a pin for induction into the National Junior Honor Society.
“When I walked onto the stage it was really cool, an incredible feeling,” she said. “I was really proud of myself.”
After finishing eighth grade at Abundant Life, Tatianna enrolled in her zoned, public high school. Her mom had lost her job in administration at a pest control company. So even with the Step Up scholarship, a private school was no longer financially possible.
Her new school is huge and fast-paced. But Tatianna said her goals are on track. She plans to go to college and become a lawyer – things she didn’t dare dream a few years ago.
Mom is confident, too. Tatianna’s first report card showed her falling just shy of honor roll, with all A’s and B’s and one C (in digital marketing). But it’s not like she hasn’t been here before.
Thanks to the scholarship, Tatianna was able to attend a school where “they really pushed her,” Karen said.
Now, she knows how to push herself.
Said mom, “I know she will be okay now.”
About Abundant Life Christian Academy
Started in 1990, Abundant Life Christian Academy is accredited by AdvancED and serves 445 PreK-8 students, including 237 on tax credit scholarships. The school uses a mix of curriculum – mostly BJU Press, Saxon Math in middle school, and some Abeka materials. This year, the MAP® (Measures of Academic Progress) test replaced the SAT as the school’s annual assessment test. Tuition varies per grade, from $6,600 to $7,300 per year. Abundant Life participates in Step Up For Students’ Success Partners program, a two-year comprehensive professional development program that is free to all schools serving Step Up For Students scholars. Success Partners is grounded in current research that directly correlates student success with parent involvement regardless of economic, racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds.The school also has access to the Teaching and Learning Exchange, a web-based, interactive tool featuring the State Standards, instructional strategies, parent and student interventions, while at the same time addressing social and behavioral issues. Abundant Life is also participating in a MAP® pilot program run by Step Up. MAP® is an adaptive computer assessment that informs educators as to what individual students are ready to learn and guides the teachers to revise their teaching based on student needs.