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Dreams of owning a home, quality schools for the boys come true thanks to education choice scholarship

BY ROGER MOONEY

ORLANDO, Florida – Juliette Harrell was 17 when she told her mom she was pregnant. She was promptly kicked out of her house.

A single mother herself, Juliette’s mom painted a bitter picture of Juliette’s new world.

“My mom told me my life was over. You got to take care of your kids. You can’t do anything,” she said.

Juliette agreed with only one part: She would take care of her baby. But she felt her life was not over, and she was determined to realize her dreams of completing her education, starting a business, owning a home, and raising a family in a nuclear household.

Now, 10 years after Aiden was born, Juliette has realized all but one of those goals. Her childcare business is still in the planning stages. But it will operate out of the home Juliette and her husband, Allen, own at the end of a cul de sac in Orlando, where they live with Aiden and his brothers Amar’e, 6, and Asht’n, 2.

The path to the present wasn’t easy for the Harrells, who found themselves homeless at one point. They remained on course through an unwavering belief in themselves and a Step Up For Students scholarship. The scholarship relieved some of the financial burden and allowed the Harrells to exercise their right to school choice and send Aiden and Amar’e to a private schools located within walking distance of their home.

“The scholarship really has helped us tremendously. I don’t know where I’d be without it,” Juliette said. “The school that we’re zoned for hasn’t been performing well – well, not up to my liking, anyways.”

The Harrell family: Asht’n, Juliette, Aiden, Amar’e and Allen (standing).

Allen was working as a groundskeeper at an Orlando apartment complex when he learned of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is provided by corporate tax contributions to Step Up For Students. The scholarship allowed Juliette and Allen to enroll Aiden in Orlando Day Nursery, a private pre-K and kindergarten school near their apartment at the time.

Aiden now attends Alpha Learning Academy, a K-5 private school, where he is in the fifth grade. Amar’e attended Orlando Day Nursery for pre-K and kindergarten and is now in the first grade at Alpha Learning Academy.

Juliette said receiving the FTC Scholarship eased the anxiety she had about Aiden’s education.

“For me, it was really important that we not only get the best education, but the education environment that best fit our family,” she said. “At the time, the public school we were zoned for wasn’t the best. I wanted options for (Aiden), and we were looking for the best opportunities for him.”

Education has always been at the forefront of Juliette’s plans. She graduated from high school despite being a teen mom who found herself bouncing between hotels and the homes of family and friends after her mother kicked her out.

“That was really important to me, getting my high school diploma so I didn’t become another statistic,” Juliette said.

Then she received an associate degree from Valencia College in Orlando and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Central Florida. Allan has an associate degree from Valencia. He now works in merchandising for City Beverage of Orlando.

The two met in a computer graphics class in high school. Allen was a senior and Juliette a freshman. Juliette saw Allen from across the classroom, walked up and told him they would someday be married. And they are.


Click here to listen to more of Juliette’s story on the reimaginED podcast with Lisa Buie.


Poor money management led to the couple being homeless for six months in 2015. Juliette took Aiden and Amar’e and moved into a woman’s coalition. Allen moved back home with his mom. The separation, Juliette said, made the family bond stronger. It also provided her with the motivation to finish her degree at UCF.

“I felt really hopeless at times,” she said. “I felt like, ‘Why is this happening? What did I do wrong? Why did I go the route that I did?’”

Juliette knew an education was the way out. She wants the same for her boys. She wants to raise them in a stable, two-parent household where they never go hungry and always feel loved.

She wants to open the daycare to help the teen moms and the single parents in the neighborhood. She and Allen have cleared space in their backyard for a community garden, so they can provide fresh vegetables for their neighbors.

Juliette said she feels as if her family is no longer in “survival mode.” Because of that, she said it’s time they help those in their community who can use a hand.

“I want to let other families know that there is a way out of your struggle,” she said. “We did it, and we went to help other people get out of their struggle, also.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at rmooney@sufs.org.

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