Fancelli Scholarship sets up Purcell Elementary grad to be Polk State legacy

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Thanks to the Polk State College Foundation’s Fancelli Scholarship, one Purcell Elementary School graduate has a clear path toward becoming a Polk State legacy.

Lily Labonte, 11, was the winner from the Mulberry school for the 2023-24 Academic Year. Her father, Chris Labonte, is steadily working his way through the Polk State Business Program.

“I try not to brag a lot as a parent,” the father said. “Lily’s accomplishments at this point in her life are so much greater than mine. I see her on a great path. I look forward to seeing all the opportunities this is going to open for her.”

Founded in 2001, the Fancelli Scholarship is annually awarded to at least one fifth-grade student at each of Polk County Public Schools’ 84 elementary schools. This scholarship covers the cost of tuition up to a baccalaureate degree at Polk State.

“I was very excited,” Lily said. “It means a lot.”

A U.S. Navy veteran, Chris Labonte owns a mobile home park and works full time as a clerk at the State Attorney’s Office. A father of five, Labonte acknowledges that he didn’t always understand the importance of education, but that changed with children. He and his wife Kathleen have stressed its importance to their children.

“We were in the front row at the awards ceremony and someone from Polk State sat beside me and eventually came to realize that I was Lily’s dad, and we were talking,” Labonte recalled. “Once she got on stage and started talking about Lily, I got choked up and started crying. With three kids still in school, I didn’t know if I would be able to provide for everyone to go to college. One down, two to go.”

Labonte has been enrolled in Polk State’s Business Program for about a decade, taking classes at his pace to align with his busy work and family schedule. He is currently seven classes away from graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management. Labonte hopes that opens new opportunities for him in his career.

“I went back to school to provide a better life for my family,” he said. “Education wasn’t that important to me beforehand. I wish people understood how important it really is. My advice would be to knock it out while you’re young.”

The only daughter out of five children and a twin to a brother named Luke, the parents say that it’s Lily’s attention to detail that makes her exceptional as a student.

“My wife and I have always stressed the importance of getting good grades to our children,” Labonte said. “Nothing gets by Lily. She’s very attentive.”

Although she has plenty of time to decide, Lily wants to be a teacher one day. Polk State offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education. More than 167 graduates from the Polk State Education Program are currently teaching in nearly 60 Polk County Public Schools. Others are in private schools, other districts, or out of state.

“I want to be a teacher,” Lily said. “I’m good at school. I’m very organized.”

Lily Labonte is one of many recipients throughout Polk County of a Fancelli Scholarship, which is self-sustaining. According to the Polk State Foundation, about 60% of the Fancelli Scholarships are utilized upon graduation from high school. The Foundation annually awards about $1.25 million in scholarships to students. Donations can be made by visiting the Foundation’s website.

“There are so many options for Lily to choose from with this scholarship,” Labonte said. “Once she chooses her path, there’s so many other opportunities she’ll have from there. We’re all extremely grateful.”