Scholarship helps smiles return for student and her parents

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on redefinED on February 10, 2017.


Maria and Marcos Verciano will never forget the anguish over their daughter’s struggles in third and fourth grade. That’s why they’re so grateful for the scholarship that changed their lives.

At first it was the D’s and F’s on Hadassa’s report cards that raised their concern. Then the poor progress reports, all of the meetings at their neighborhood school in Destin, Florida, being told Hadassa wasn’t on track to make the next grade level – it all added up to a serious strain on the family.

Hadassa’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis didn’t do much to change her path, either.

Hadassa Verciano, 12, has improved her academics at Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville, Fla. “It’s way easier to learn,” she said. “If you don’t understand something the teachers explain it really well.”

Hadassa Verciano, 12, has improved her academics at Rocky Bayou Christian School in Destin, Fla. “It’s way easier to learn,” she said. “If you don’t understand something the teachers explain it really well.”

“They just set her apart and gave her more time to do the tests, but nothing more than that,” Maria said. “It was so sad for me, for her dad and for her, because she felt different from the other students. She felt like she was not accepted.”

“It was kind of overwhelming to think that she wouldn’t make it to fourth and fifth grade, that this was going to be her life forever. It was a very bad feeling that she was always behind.”

When Hadassa’s normally bright spirit and enthusiasm for school turned to dejection, her parents knew they had to make a change.

A Step Up For Students scholarship empowered them to do it.

The couple had always dreamed of sending Hadassa to a private school, but with Marcos’ work installing pavers and Maria’s job managing a beach house, they could never afford it. At their small Brazilian church, they found out about Rocky Bayou Christian School, a place that caters to all manner of students with different educational needs.

At Rocky Bayou’s Destin campus, principal Joe Quilit told Maria about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which helps lower-income families afford tuition. She applied, but it was too late in the school year. All of the scholarships had been awarded.

“We could not pay, but since she was so miserable in that school I had to get an extra job,” Maria said. “We had a very difficult year. We struggled financially to pay tuition.”

Maria recalls getting up with the sunrise to clean houses before working at her primary job. The family got some financial help from Hadassa’s grandfather, but they still had to go into debt to pay for tuition, tutoring and medical bills.

It was worth it.

With smaller classes and two teachers in the room, Hadassa’s grades improved. She still struggles in math but gets lots of 1-on-1 attention.

“It’s way easier to learn,” Hadassa said. “If you don’t understand something the teachers explain it really well. They just say it in a way that makes you get it.”

Her bubbly personality and bright smile are back, too.

“Last year she was painfully shy,” said Kelly Hoskins, one of Hadassa’s fifth- and sixth-grade teachers. “She was very quiet and would not participate in class. It was almost like she had been overlooked for so long that she was afraid to even say anything. But she is a completely different girl this year.”

“She is a ball of fire right now, very popular, very expressive. Everybody absolutely adores Hadassa.”

The atmosphere at Rocky Bayou has made all the difference.

“It’s kind of like having one big family,” she said. “You can really be yourself and no one really judges you. They just accept you for who you are.”

After getting the Step Up scholarship this year, Maria and Marcos were able to pay off the debt they accrued. They couldn’t be happier to have the focus back on Hadassa’s education.

“I have hope for her, and now I can see a future for her,” Maria said. “Before it was confusion, but now it’s like a way is open. You can see a light.”

About Rocky Bayou Christian School

Established in 1973 with 22 students, Rocky Bayou Christian School now has campuses in Niceville, Destin and Crestview. The schools serves K-12 students and provides transportation services in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties. It uses a mixture of curriculum tools, including A Beka, Bob Jones University Press and Saxon Math. It administers the Stanford Achievement Test annually at its main campus in Niceville and uses TerraNova at its Destin campus. Tuition is $7,190 a year for grades 1-6 and $7,875 for 7-12.

Jeff Barlis can be reached at

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