By JEFF BARLIS
As early as sixth grade, Lacey Nowling knew her love for children was calling her to become a pediatrician.
Living in the tiny town of Jay, Fla., in the far northwestern reaches of the panhandle, she had a clear vision of her future.
But certainty turned to doubt as her school work got harder and harder in ninth grade.
“She had bad grades,” Lacey’s mom, Elizabeth Nowling, recalled. “She was running D’s and F’s most of the school year. She was just barely making it by the skin of her teeth.”
At the same time, Lacey was feeling more and more out of place at her neighborhood school. Because of the bad influences there, she was becoming distracted from her schoolwork. Then, the only thing that was keeping her at that school – band – fell apart as well.
“Band was my safe place,” she said. “Band was what kept me going.”
The last straw was at band camp when Lacey, a piccolo player, unwittingly broke a rule by drinking Gatorade on the field. The director chided her in front of the band and made her stay in a push-up position for the rest of practice.
“After practice we went back to the band room, and I went into the bathroom and cried,” Lacey said, still emotional as she recounted the event years later. “It was a few weeks later when I quit.”
For months, Lacey’s mother had been pushing her to transfer to Faith Christian Academy, a private school at their church. Lacey was now open to the change.
Her younger brother, Zack, was already attending FCA with the help of the Step Up For Students scholarship, which gives parents the ability to choose from more than 1,600 participating private schools statewide.
The Nowlings, with dad Obie in construction and mom Elizabeth a homemaker, were among the first families at Faith Christian Academy to receive the scholarship. They would not have been able to afford the tuition otherwise.
“I’m so grateful we have that opportunity, that choice,” Elizabeth said.
Lacey transferred to FCA for 10th grade and slowly started improving the 2.30 GPA she had in her neighborhood school. Along that road to recovery was a lot of catching up on the school work she couldn’t master before.
Somewhere in her first year at Faith Christian, Lacey revived her dream. And to keep it alive, she made a remarkably mature decision to repeat 11th grade.
“She had such a desire to go to college and to do more with her life that she came to us and said, ‘I’m just going to stay another year,’ ” said principal Sandra Lassiter. “She knew it was going to be very hard to just try to cram in everything. What she had left to do she could have easily thought it was too much and just quit, but she didn’t.”
“Her grades were good. She was really wanting to get those harder classes in, instead of just getting a general diploma, to strive for a college prep diploma. She knew that would really help her in going to college.”
That it did. Lacey graduated FCA in 2015 with a 3.37 GPA. and became the first in her family to attend college. She began studying nursing last year at Jefferson Davis Community College, just across the state line in Brewton, Ala. She had a B average in her first year.
“I did have some reservations with her going out into the big world,” Elizabeth said. “I didn’t know how it was going to be. Her goal is to get her nursing degree and then as she’s working, continue on with her education to be a pediatrician. She truly loves children and they love her.”
Thanks to Lacey’s perseverance and help from a Step Up scholarship, her dream of becoming Dr. Nowling is on its way to becoming reality.
About Faith Christian Academy
Originally called Cobbtown Christian Academy, the school opened on Aug. 25, 2010 with six students. In the 2015-16 school year, Faith Christian Academy had 33 students enrolled in grades K-12, 13 of whom were on the Step Up For Students scholarship. FCA, located at 13050 Highway 89 in Jay, Fla., is expecting to grow to 53 students this fall for the 2016-17 school year. The school employs two curriculums – A.C.E. (or Accelerated Christian Education) and A Beka – and is switching from the Stanford 10 standardized test to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Annual tuition is $3,000 a year.