The Robaina Family

As Step Up For Students celebrates 10 years of providing low-income families the opportunity to attend the school of their choice, we catch up with scholars who were awarded scholarships that first year. 

uq5tv15rAs a toddler, Arian Robaina came to the United States from Cuba with his family seeking a better life. His wife, Melba, did the same coming from Honduras with her family. Still, after the couple had their three children they realized just being in the United States wasn’t enough.

“I told my wife, ‘You know what? Let’s do better for them,’” Arian recalled.

And better they have done.

The couple realized that a solid academic background was the key to a prosperous life for their children.  When their eldest son, Arian Jr., entered middle school, the Robainas immediately noticed changes from his elementary school. By his second day, Arian Jr. was being pushed around by other children. The Robainas started looking for another school, but knew they couldn’t afford private school. They considered their options, including putting their house up for sale to move to another school district, but then they heard about the Step Up for Students Scholarship Program from a friend and applied. They qualified and sent all three children to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, now called Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard Catholic School, in Cutler Bay near Miami. The youngest, Yanni, now 16, started in first grade.

“It was heaven sent,” Melba said about Step Up. “I am so thankful for the scholarship program.”

Arian and Melba had attended college, but when they started a family their focus shifted and they never completed their degrees. Arian worked two jobs so Melba could stay home with the children before they started school. All along the way, they stressed to their two sons and daughter the importance of education, which included obtaining a college degree.  The couple remained involved in their children’s school and with planning their futures.

“For your kids to be successful, you really have to be on top of it,” Arian Sr. said.

Theirs and their children’s hard work is paying off.

“They do appreciate all we’ve done for them,” said a proud Arian Sr. “They come home with good grades.”

The mutual respect is clear.

“There are my role models,” said Melari Robaina, the middle child, said of her parents. “They worked so hard to give us an education.”

The Robainas were in the Step Up Program for five years at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Arian Jr. started high school at Archbishop Coleman Carroll High before the family no longer met the income requirements.

“We weren’t getting any help, but we weren’t making enough money to send three kids to (private) school,” Arian Sr. said.

So, keeping education a priority, they packed up the three kids in 2006 and moved to Arizona where they have a similar scholarship programs with different income requirements. The Robaina children received scholarships from the Catholic Education Arizona program. All of the Robainas have maintained excellent grades, have received numerous academic honors and all are National Honor Society members. Two of the three, Arian Jr., and Melari, graduated from high school and went onto universities. Arian Jr. just completed his junior year at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. and is considering a career in sports medicine.

“Ever since I was little they wanted us to get educated,” Arian Jr. said about his parents. “It (the scholarships) helped my parents greatly back then. It helped me succeed.”

Melari just completed her freshman year at Loyola University in New Orleans and plans to become a veterinarian.

“It would have been harder for my family without those resources. Those resources helped our family a lot,” Melari said. “We’re really grateful for it.”

Both college students are on scholarship.

The youngest, Yanni, just completed his sophomore year at Seton Catholic Prep High in Chandler, AZ, and is already looking ahead to college. He is considering applying to schools like Duke University, Ava Maria University and Catholic University. He already realizes the sacrifices his parents have made to ensure he and his siblings get a concrete education.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “Not every parent can do that.”

Arian Sr. now works as a waiter and Melba works at a local casino. They continue to struggle financially and appreciate beyond words, they say, the financial support they have received for educating their children.

“Hopefully, their life is a little easier. My wife and I had it hard,” he said.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard Catholic School

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard Catholic School opened its doors in 1959, but was known then as simply as Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic  School. Founded  by the sisters of St. Joseph it is run by the Archdiocese of Miami. The school changed its name last year when the church unified with another local church St. Richard’s Parish in Palmetto Bay. Children can attend pre-K through eighth grade at the school (Step Up doesn’t apply to pre-k) and tuition is $6,750 for kindergarten through fifth and $6,950 for sixth through eighth grades. The school measures academic success with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. For the 2011-2012 school year, of their nearly 390 students, approximately 78 students were on Step Up.

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