When Maria Jose Paz’s mother died, she left behind a fervent wish: that her daughter complete her high school education and take the first step toward a better tomorrow.
“She wanted me to have a better life,” Maria said of her mother, whose education in Honduras stopped at 6th grade and who died in January 2020 after a struggle with lung cancer. “She really wanted me to graduate.”
With help from the educators at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies, Maria did just that. Not only did she graduate, she also was one of three grads who won an Academic Excellence Award.
“Once she sets a goal for herself, she expects nothing but the best,” said Nadi Sambrana, Maria’s graduation candidate advocate. “If she got an 80 on her test, she said, ‘I want to get a 100.’ ”
Maria’s mother raised her as a single parent, bringing her daughter to the United States at a young age in hopes of her getting a good education and enjoying solid prospects for work as an adult. When her mom died shortly after New Year’s Day, Maria was devastated.
A friend of her mother, Evelyn Concepcion, took Maria in and, with help from Maria’s cousin, Juan Carlos Paz, supported the young woman. Concepcion found out about MDAA, whose personalized and flexible study plan would be a good fit for Maria.
At first, Maria acknowledges, she was withdrawn and lacked motivation. But that didn’t deter Sambrana and her colleagues at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies.
“They made me feel so welcome. They said, ‘Hey we’ve heard about you. We want to help you,’ ” recalled Maria. “They gave me motivation to keep moving forward.”
While many students would be happy with an 80 on tests, Maria always wanted to have another try in pursuit of greater mastery in the subject and a stronger grade on her transcript.
“I had always doubted myself in the past,” she said. “After my mom’s passing, I said I need to shine for her — and also for myself.”
At a career fair, Maria learned about a career in phlebotomy and decided to pursue it in college. When her mother was in and out of the hospital during cancer treatment, she appreciated the kindness and skill of health care providers. She would like to make that same difference in the lives of her future patients.
She said the MDAA team showed her a like dedication, working with her after hours and on weekends to complete her coursework and reach her goal.
“No matter the time or day, there was constant support,” Maria said. “That’s why I love the program. They never give up on you. Never.”