BY GEOFF FOX
Savannah Lang has time to weigh her options.
The 2015 graduate of Merritt Island Christian School (MICS) had long wanted to become a pharmacist, but as she prepared for her sophomore year at Eastern Florida State College’s Cocoa Campus, the 19-year-old was considering a career in business.
She has also considered engineering.
“Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it all out,” Lang said. “I’m not 100 percent sure yet.”
Lang’s scholastic achievements – she earned an overall 3.89 GPA in high school, was part of the National Honor Society and received a humanitarian award for most volunteer hours – and the options she now considers are like answers to the prayers of her mother, Rhonda Ford.
A single mother since her daughter was 3, Ford, a massage therapist, said she had concerns about sending Savannah to public school.
“She had been going to Merritt Island Christian at 3 and 4, and I knew that was where I wanted to have her until she graduated,” Ford said. “I wanted Savannah in a Christian environment.”
The Brevard County school includes an elementary school, middle school and high school, as well as a preschool academy.
However, by the time Savannah was ready to start kindergarten, Ford was struggling financially.
Fate intervened – in the form of a beat-up Nissan Maxima.
“My car needed repair, like, a lot, so I was referred to a mechanic, and when they gave me the total, I asked if we could barter some of (the cost),” Ford said. “The mechanic said, ‘Yes, my wife has four little kids and could definitely use a massage.’
That was in spring 2002. By fall, Savannah’s scholarship application was approved and she was enrolled at MICS.
“The timing of the application was perfect,” Ford said. “It was totally God; He worked it all out.”
At the time, Ford and Savannah lived with Ford’s mother. The family lived under the same roof for several years, as Ford built her business and Savannah flourished in school.
“She was on the honor roll all 12 years and developed really good study habits,” Ford said. “My mom would pick her up after school, and she’d start doing her homework in the car. It was such a blessing, especially for a single mom.
“It was the fact that you feel that you have control and direction of your child’s education – in an environment that is totally conducive for learning. There are no outside influences of an environment without discipline. The teachers can hug you, you know?
“It’s been an amazing blessing.”
While the scholarship helped financially, MICS Superintendent Nanci Dettra, lauded Savannah’s effort in the classroom, and on the varsity volleyball court. Savannah also participated in dual enrollment at MICS, taking high school courses along with college-level ones through a local community college and Palm Beach Atlantic University.
During her senior year, Savannah also received the Principal’s Scholarship, a two-year award to help pay for classes at Eastern Florida State College. At Eastern Florida, she is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for high academic achievers pursuing two-year degrees.
Dettra described Lang as being as determined and passionate as she was outgoing and popular.
“She really is a go-getter,” Dettra said. “Focused is a great word for Savannah.”
In February 2016, Savannah became a registered pharmacy technician at a local drug store. While it was the right environment to learn more about being a pharmacist, Savannah said her retail experience has led her to consider pursuing a career in merchandising.
Of course, she could change her mind again.
As she drove to the drug store where she works full-time on summer breaks, Savannah seemed grateful for the educational groundwork instilled in her at MICS.
“I really enjoyed it because it was so much smaller, and there was more one-on- one time if you needed help,” she said. “There wasn’t this big classroom. You could talk to teachers and counselors. That helped me tremendously.”
Then one day in 2002, Ford learned about Step Up For Students and the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Once the family received approval, Ford enrolled Savannah Lang into
kindergarten at Merritt Island Christian School (MICS) for the 2002-03 school year.
Mother and daughter never looked back. Today, Savannah is a high school graduate starting college in the fall with plans to become a pharmacist.
“Step Up for Students helped my daughter in every way,” Ford said. “I am a single mom and I would never have been able to afford a private school like MICS.”
Ford liked the small class sizes and the Christian environment, and the partnership between teachers and parents.
“I felt like I had more control over her education, and I felt comfortable knowing that her friends and their parents had similar beliefs to mine,” she said. “Savannah did not get lost in the crowd.”
Savannah excelled academically, earning an overall 3.89 GPA for her high school career. Her favorite subject was math because there are many ways to solve a problem. She was part of the National Honor Society and received the Humanitarian Award for most volunteer hours.
Savannah also participated in dual enrollment at MICS, taking high school courses along with college-level ones through a local community college and Palm Beach Atlantic University. During her senior year, she received the Principal’s Scholarship, a two-year award from Eastern Florida State College to help pay for classes there. She starts in the fall and has earned enough credits to receive her Associate in Arts degree in less than two years.
“While I was at MICS, my teachers and my mom taught me to be a hard worker,” Savannah said. “If I put my mind into something, I will achieve it. I have a dream of becoming a pharmacist, and I will achieve it and be very successful.”
She gained a lot of maturity in recent years helping care for her maternal grandmother, who was paralyzed by a stroke and died in July 2014.
“I couldn’t have made it without Savannah’s help,” Ford said.
Her daughter spends most days now working at a pharmacy. But Savannah is not all school and work. When she has some free time, she enjoys horseback riding and volleyball.
After she graduates from Eastern College, Savannah plans to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville. She said she will miss the 26 seniors she graduated with at MICS. Together, they amassed more than $1 million in college scholarships, Principal Jamie Bopp said.
Many of those students also were on the Step Up For Students scholarship, like Savannah.
“Step Up For Students is giving students and their families an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Bopp said. “Savannah’s story is a perfect example of that. You doing what you do helps us do what we do. You truly are making a difference.”
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