The Nelson family
After looking at the school options for her firstborn, Benjamin, Autumn Nelson of Yalaha in Lake County, didn’t like what she saw.
“We wanted an environment that was really nurturing and we just didn’t see that in our neighborhood school,” Autumn said.
The neighborhood school they were zoned for was a D and has since fallen to an F, so she started homeschooling. When it got closer for her younger children, Nathaniel and Meghan, to start school, she rethought that option, too.
“Looking down the pipeline and seeing that I had two more coming up, I knew that it was going to be a little too stressful for me for me to homeschool all three,” Nelson said.
She and her husband, Daniel, started looking at private schools and learned about Step Up For Students scholarships, but at the time students had to attend a public school for a year prior to becoming eligible for the scholarship. The Nelsons obtained a zone waiver for Benjamin, so he could attend a public school outside of his neighborhood for a year and become eligible for Step Up. This one was rated a C.
“He cried every day. Every day,” Autumn recalled.
Nathaniel, however, was able to start at kindergarten at Liberty Christian Prep School in Tavares with the help of a Step Up scholarship. The family immediately fell in love with the school, even Benjamin, who looked forward to starting there the following year. He would attend fairs at the school and was very impressed the teachers knew his name even before he began attending.
When he could start at Liberty in third grade, everything changed for Benjamin.
“His first day at Liberty he said he loved his teacher, and he wanted to stay at the school forever. As a mom, that sealed the deal for me.”
Now all three of her children attend the school and are doing well.
Back at the public school, Benjamin’s grades started slipping to B’s and C’s, he acted out in class. But once he started at Liberty, his grades and behavior improved.
“As far as his academics here at Liberty, he typically never scores less than a B on a tests, and has always received straight A’s on report cards.”
Nathaniel and Meghan are also Dean’s List regulars, she said.
Autumn now works at the school as a secretary, so she really gets to see the teachers up close and personal.
“I can tell they really, really want the children to excel,” she said. “Not just to get them through the school year, but give them a foundation for their futures.”
It’s that kind of commitment and atmosphere that makes the Nelsons even more thankful for the opportunity to send their children to Liberty with the help of Step Up.
“It’s just a huge blessing for our family. We definitely wouldn’t be able to have the kids here at Liberty without the scholarship; even with both my husband and I working,” Autumn said.
This year, 115 of 269 students enrolled at prekindergarten through 12th grade school are Step Up scholars. School administrator Debra Zischke said the Step Up students are some of the better performing and their parents are quite involved.
“They feel very blessed,” she said. “They appreciate the fact that there’s no other way they would be able to do this.”
Working in the school office, Autumn gets to see fellow Step Up families when they go into endorse their Step Up tuition checks each quarter and hears the same thing time and time again: “Thank God for this program. I don’t know where we would be without it.”
Said Autumn: “And I feel the same way.”
This is probably going to sound completely cliché’, but since I left the public school system, I have been much happier. I am currently a junior at Liberty Christian Prep (LCP). I transferred here from Tavares, before my 8th grade year. I have been attending LCP for four years. I transferred for a few reasons: bullying, grades and my appearance. I have always been overweight and always maintained an AB average although it was difficult.
Since I left public school, my life and thoughts have completely changed. All the staff and students were so welcoming on my first day of school here. I was included in all the activities and even tried out for a sports team (Volleyball). We only lost two games that season!
I have been much happier here at LCP. I’ve noticed over the past few years that everyone hangs out with everyone. There are no “cliques”. A lot of students are willing to help you when you need it which I especially love when it comes to Math. My grades have been easier to maintain here since there are fewer students and the teachers actually care about you.
Another true statement is: I’m glad I left public school and came here because I probably would be in a place that one would want to be in.
Dear Ms. Zischke:
Wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you and the dedication of your staff. Erin has been home schooled since kindergarten. After much prayer work, we decided to place Erin in school. We searched high and low for a school with high standards and Christian values. After touring many private Christian schools, we decided to place our child in your school – Liberty Christian Prep (LCP). We have noticed that LCP has very high standards in education and conduct for their students.
The decision to send Erin to LCP was one of the best we have made in a long time. At first, we were apprehensive about changing curriculums but Erin’s teacher, Ms. Paynter, has worked with her diligently and Erin made High Honor Roll the past two quarters. Erin LOVES Liberty Christian Prep! She is anxious to get to school early in the morning and wants to be picked up at the very last minute in the afternoon. Erin has made many friends this year who we pray are around many years to come.
Ms. Zischke, the pride and dedication you put into the school is evident in the actions and conduct of your teachers. The teachers at LCP are of the highest caliber and they reflect your dedication. Thank you to you and your staff. We look forward to many more years at LCP.
Thank you again,
Jason and Deana Englebright
Cherie L. Mulholland
LIBERTY CHRISTIAN PREP:
I just wanted to take a moment to thank the faculty and staff at Liberty Christian Prep for providing such a wonderful academic environment for my daughter. We had a difficult experience at her previous (private) school which was causing a great deal of stress for her resulting in some health issues.
Her father and I knew we had to make a change for her and quickly. We did not want her to start disliking school altogether. We were exploring options. With the changes in the public school system, eliminating the FCAT and the addition of the Common Core curriculum, we had many reservations. Home school and Florida Virtual School were not options as we believe our children benefit greatly from the socialization skills provided in a school setting. We were very apprehensive about sending her to another private school and simply did not want to address the issues of politics and sense of entitlement that was rampant in her previous school.
I spent days speaking to anyone and everyone who was willing to offer advice and the once consistency I kept hearing was how wonderful Liberty was. My prayers were answered when we were able to visit Liberty for the day. I was greeted by the nicest people I have ever met. As a result, at the end of the day, my daughter was begging to attend school here. She has now attended Liberty for several years and is EXTREMELY happy, not only with her new friends, but with the relationships she has made with the teachers and staff. As her parent, it has been such a blessing to see my daughter happy and actually loving school again.
I have witnessed several children who have left the other school to attend Liberty and it makes me smile when I see them thriving and coming out of their shells. I believe the children are able to be themselves and express their individuality at Liberty because they feel safe in the loving environment provided here.
Finally, I simply appreciate the common sense approach I witness every day at Liberty. The staff and faculty are not only experienced educators, but many are also parents themselves. In my opinion this makes them more aware of the needs of students as well as their parents. I also appreciate that amidst the down turn in the economy, budget cuts and all the hurdles that private schools face, Liberty Christian Prep has always managed to maintain a well-trained and experienced teaching staff.
Cherie L. Mulholland