When Luisa Sanchez moved from New Jersey to South Florida, both she and her daughter, Isabella, looked forward to a new chapter in their lives. But when Isabella attended her new school, she found that her pale skin subjected her to racist taunts.
“They were calling me cracker. It was bullying,” says Isabella, whose father is Dominican and mother Italian. “I thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ”
And at the charter school she first attended, she said, the teachers didn’t seem to have much time for her or her classmates. “My math teacher, she didn’t teach us anything. She literally yelled at us the whole time.”
Her mom found her hope turning to dismay. “We were excited to move to Florida. Isabella loves to meet new people She was excited to be the new kid,” says Luisa. “It was a shock to her to have negative feedback.”
Isabella didn’t want to drop out, but she also didn’t want to continue in the new, unfriendly environment. She and her mother began to look for alternatives. Says Luisa, “I didn’t want my daughter to be with no education.”
When they found about Acceleration Academies, their hope returned. The school offered a learning environment free of social poison and full of affirming classmates and educators.
The ability to take one class at a time and log to do coursework outside of traditional school hours was perfect for a 17-year-old who liked to work when her energy was high — even if that was 3 a.m.
“She would just go to school whenever her brain would say log on,” says her mom. “That was great.”
Isabella credits MDAA educators, particularly Deborah Ginsberg and Maria Serrano, for keeping her on track even when her momentum lagged. “It felt nice that they didn’t want to see me fail, that they wanted me to graduate.”
Sonia Casadiego is another mom who’s grateful for the difference MDAA made in her daughter’s life. Her daughter, Sofia, is a shy young woman who felt overwhelmed by the crowded hallways and classrooms of traditional school.
In the small, studious environment of MDAA, she found a learning home. The ability to take one course at a time suits her, and her mother is impressed by the personal attention she gets from the educators.
“What has meant the most is that everyone is always trying to reach out to her, ask her how she’s doing and how she’s feeling,” says Sofia’s mom. Before, said Sonia, “I was afraid she wasn’t going to make it.”
Now, she’s making strong progress and building self-confidence. Sofiia has ambitions to go to cooking school and become a chef. Her mother, a Venezuelan native who prides herself on independence, is thrilled.
“I tell her all the time, you need to finish high school. In the future, I want you to be a woman who can stand up for herself and have her own job,” says Sonia. “She needs to be able to work on her own, to support her family.”