By ROGER MOONEY
Zoe Elverillo’s mother dropped out of school in the eighth grade. So did Zoe’s brother. Zoe, however, has blazed a different path.
Zoe will graduate this spring from the demanding International Baccalaureate program at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa with a 4.0 grade point average. Unlike anyone in her family before her, she will head to Louisiana State University in the fall, where she plans to study sports medicine.
“I definitely see myself owning my own business,” Zoe, 18, said. “I definitely want to be my own boss. I see myself having my own therapy center.”
This is exactly what Zoe’s mom, Pamala Moreau, wanted for her daughter when she decided to send her to a private school – a bright future. A single mother, Moreau was able to do that with a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students.
The scholarship covers about a third of the yearly tuition at the prestigious private school. Carrollwood, a pre-K to 12 private school near the family’s home, has a network of donors who cover the rest. That enables Zoe and her younger sister, Nya, 15, to receive an education their mother could otherwise never afford.
“I’m so thankful and so grateful, and look at where Zoe is today,” Moreau said. “She would not be where she is today if she did not have the Step Up scholarship and go to that school.”
Zoe is a confident and determined student. She approached her classes in the IB program with the same competitive spirit she displays while playing first base for one of the Tampa Bay area’s top softball travel teams.
“It’s definitely a challenging school. They put you next to challenging students,” Zoe said. “It’s pretty competitive here. I adopted well to it.”
Drew Guarino, Carrollwood’s senior associate director of college counseling, said Zoe’s commitment to her education was evident during the first semester of her senior year. That’s a time when seniors tend to slack off a little, Guarino said. But Zoe had her best semester of her high school career, earning five A’s and one B.
“She takes her academics seriously,” Guarino said.
Zoe had little choice when it comes to that. Her mom wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I definitely don’t want them to follow in my shoes, that’s for sure,” Moreau said.
Moreau was 12 when she dropped out of school. She washed dishes. She checked coats at a hotel. By the age of 15, she was living on her own. As an adult, Moreau found work in the hospitality industry while raising her children.
“Not an easy life,” she said, “but I was happy.”
Moreau, who now works as an office manager, did the best she could with an eighth-grade education, but she wanted so much more for her daughters.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I want them to be able to take care of themselves. I don’t want them to have to rely on anybody for anything, ever. I want them to be able to be successful on their own. That’s very important. School, that was a big priority.”
Moreau wanted her daughters to attend Carrollwood because she felt the school’s IB program would prepare them for college.
“(Zoe) blossomed and got stronger as the curriculum became more challenging to the point where I’m confident she will be successful once she gets off to college because of all the hard work she’s put in over the last few years,” Guarino said.
In addition to LSU, Zoe was accepted at Florida Atlantic University, Pace University, Coastal Carolina University, James Madison University and the University of North Florida. She settled on LSU because she liked the campus culture and school spirit and because of the sports medicine program.
Zoe took Sports and Exercise Health Science as a junior. She shadowed Carrollwood’s athletic trainer during football season and interned at a local chiropractor’s office.
“Sports medicine has always been a big interest for me,” she said. “I never had a passion for anything other than that.”
Moreau regrets not continuing her education. She hears her friends talk about their proms and going to college and attending class reunions. She didn’t want her daughters to miss out on those experiences. But mostly, Moreau didn’t want her daughters to miss out on what they can achieve with a solid education.
“I’ve always felt education was No. 1 over everything,” Zoe said. “I always wanted to prove it to myself. I took it upon myself and this is a big accomplishment to me.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.