By PERRY ATHANASON
Cristina Valdes noticed her fourth-grade son’s interest in learning start to fade and his behavior slip during the 2011-12 school year at their local elementary school and immediately took it as a red flag.
Instead of concentrating on his teacher’s lessons, Jordan Garcia asked to take unnecessary bathroom breaks, roamed the halls and fooled around seeking attention, his mother said.
“Jordan’s conduct at school had reached a crossroads and I saw him pulling further away from his interest in school and more towards acting up and being the class clown,” said Cristina. “I felt that if I did not intervene now, I may lose him by the time he started middle school.”
What perplexed Cristina the most was that her son’s grades were among the best in his class, but Jordan’s conduct and a general lackluster for his studies blemished that academic success. What she learned was that her son was often the first in class to finish tests and schoolwork and then he was left without anything structured to do. Jordan didn’t notice his slide, however, but admitted he was bored in school.
“I found my work very easy and since the teachers didn’t have anything else for me, I would make paper balls and try to make three-pointers into the garbage cans,” said Jordan, now a sixth-grader. “My classwork was not very challenging and the homework was easy.”
Cristina also pinpointed the issue and tried to address it.
“I would review his assignments and I saw a lot of repetition in his curriculum. He simply wasn’t being challenged academically. I met with his teachers on several occasions which validated what I already knew – my son was a smart kid, but was bored, which lead to a change of attitude and the beginnings of bad behavior,” said Cristina. “
At one point, she had her son tested for the gifted program, but he missed that option by just a few points, she said.
When Cristina was searching for options, a friend told her about the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program, eventually leading her to Highpoint Academy near their Miami-area home.
“I was thrilled after meeting with Highpoint Academy,” said Cristina. “They represented what I had envisioned for Jordan’s education including interactive teaching methods, small student-teacher ratios and a curriculum that I knew would challenge my son.”
Cristina also was impressed by the school’s warm and nurturing family environment.
“Highpoint students are 21st century learners,” said Principal Alicia Casanova. “Our students are encouraged to use their imagination and to experiment, create, evaluate, analyze, understand, explore, communicate and discover. Our teachers are all trained to stimulate each child’s critical thinking process and creativity.”
Cristina wanted this for her son, but admittance was not guaranteed. Jordan, however, passed the entrance exam with flying colors and was accepted into Highpoint Academy in Miami beginning in the fifth grade.
“I wanted a different educational approach for him but yet couldn’t afford it,” said Cristina. “I am a single mother of three boys and if it wasn’t for the Step Up For Students Scholarship, Jordan would not have had this opportunity.”
Of the 312 students attending Highpoint for the 2013-14 school year, nearly 18 percent, including Jordan, are Step Up scholars.
“We’re very proud to be doing our part to form lifelong learners and certainly, many of our excellent students would not be able to obtain the benefits offered at our wonderful school if it wasn’t for the funds available to them through Step Up For Students,” said Casanova.
For Jordan, attending Highpoint has gotten him back on track.
“My new teachers keep subjects interesting and me and my friends push each other to do better. We help each other with learning and understanding different subjects and I feel that the teachers really care,” said Jordan.
Jordan has found the curriculum more challenging than his prior school’s and in his first year got A’s and B’s. Now in middle school, he got a C for his first grading period, his mother said, but he has vowed to bring it up for his next report card. He has to maintain good grades to move toward his dream of becoming an NBA superstar.
“If you do not do good with your grades and conduct at Highpoint, you are not allowed to play sports,” said Jordan. “I play for the Highpoint team and love that I can excel as a student athlete.”
Of course, Jordan has a backup plan to become a lawyer so that he can provide for his family – a lesson that Jordan learned by watching his single-mom work hard to provide for him and his two brothers.
About Highpoint Academy
Founded in 1976, Highpoint Academy promotes 21st century learning and has Wi-Fi capabilities and computers with flat-screen monitors in every classroom, as well as SMART Boards for interactive learning. As an additional learning tool, iPads are integrated into the curriculum. The school, which serves children in pre-K through eighth-grade, promotes academic excellence while developing students’ overall character and creative thinking skills, and aims to instill a desire for lifelong learning.
The non-sectarian, co-educational bilingual private school has numerous accreditations including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, National Council For Private School Accreditation, Council of Bilingual Schools and Florida Council of Independent Schools. It uses the Stanford Achievement Test to measure academic success. Tuition ranges from $6,600 for kindergarten to $7,000 for eighth grade.