Step Up For Students
by Lisa A. Davis, Assistant Director, Strategic Marketing Communications, Step Up For Students

After Angela Becker was born prematurely, weighing in at a mere two pounds, she left the hospital for the first time nine weeks later with a calendar filled with therapy appointments. At nine months, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and by the time she was six, she received another diagnosis, mild cerebral palsy. At eleven it was autism.

“Every time you receive a diagnosis, you go through that mourning process,” said her mother, Rori Becker, owner and founder of Bright Feats.
Perhaps what was more challenging was the result of an IQ test in the third grade on which Angela scored quite low. It was then her neighborhood school principal gave her a new–and to her mother–unexpected label: “uneducable.”

To Angela’s mother the label was also something else: unacceptable.

Even though the principal said Angela was welcome to stay at school, Becker thought homeschooling seemed to be the best option. At this point, Angela was struggling at school, not because she didn’t necessarily understand what she was learning, her mother said, but because it takes her a little longer to complete academic tasks.

“Her IQ was so low,’ Becker said. “But if you give her time, she tests at almost average.”

Once she started homeschooling her, Becker saw up close what she always knew.

“She’s very teachable, but you have to give her direct instructions,” she said. “She doesn’t pick up the stuff that comes naturally for other people.”

At home in Altamonte Springs, Becker could try different teaching techniques to see what worked best. “Once she started typing that just opened up everything for her,” she said.

Angela thrived academically. “Homeschooling saved my life,” Angela, now 21, said recently. There was one key skill she was still missing, however, and that was socializing, and the price tag was already steep for all the therapies.

“I heard about Step Up For Students and I didn’t do anything for a year, because I thought it was too good to be true,” Becker said.

But then she applied for a Gardiner Scholarship through Step Up For Students and learned it was real.

The Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs or unique abilities provides a variety of education options for eligible Florida schoolchildren. On average, a student receives about $10,000 annually to be used on approved private schools, curriculum for homeschooling, certain therapies, educational tools and even a college saving account. It allows parents to customize the education of their child to fit their learning needs. Angela used it in part for social thinking therapy. With the help of the Gardiner Scholarship in her senior year of high school, building those social skills changed everything for Angela “There’s no way we could have afforded that,” Becker said. “It was key to sending her out into the world. She can hold her own for a while now.”

Angela received her high school diploma in 2016 and then an associate degree from Seminole State College after successfully completing the dual enrollment program. Today, she is a junior at the University of Central Florida majoring in creative writing. She maintains a high GPA to be on the President’s List. And, she lives on campus–something she and her parents didn’t know if she would ever do.

“I think if it weren’t for the Gardiner Scholarship and I wasn’t able to afford [social thinking therapy], I would be a lot more autistic than I seem to be. I wouldn’t have learned, I wouldn’t have had that epiphany that I can be okay socially,” Angela said.

So the young girl who was deemed “uneducable” all those years ago will graduate from college next year with a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in technical editing. Angela is set to embark on a technical editing career, all because of the love and patience of a mother, and a little help from the Gardiner Scholarship.

“Life is much harder for her,” said Becker, her mother, “but she’s not going to let anything get in her way.”

Step Up For Students is a state-approved non-profit scholarship funding organization based in Florida serving more than 107,000 students with four scholarship programs. To learn more, please visit StepUpForStudents.org.