Polk State College and the Polk State College Foundation’s ability to transform the lives of families throughout the community has been well documented. Sometimes, that ability is seen long before students ever step foot on campus.
Maite Nova-Vega’s family recently witnessed that firsthand. On May 24, 11-year-old Maite, a fifth-grade student at Purcell Elementary School in Mulberry, was presented with the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship.
“It means a lot,” said Cristina Vega, Maite’s mother. “There were a lot of emotions. It was one of the happiest days ever.”
Founded in 2001, the scholarship is annually awarded to at least one fifth-grade student at each of Polk County Public Schools’ 84 public elementary schools. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition to earn up to a baccalaureate degree at Polk State.
“For students to have the opportunity to have the cost of a bachelor’s degree covered is incredible,” said Myra Richardson, principal at Purcell Elementary. “Considering the number of students we serve, it’s extremely rewarding to see those scholarships presented. Seeing the tears flow and how much this means to these families is amazing.”
The scholarships are presented by Polk State faculty, staff, volunteers, and the Foundation’s Board of Directors at each of the schools during their graduation ceremony. Presenting to Maite was Von McGriff, Polk State Professor of College Success.
“It was very emotional,” McGriff said. “When Maite’s name was called, I immediately looked at her mother and she began to cry profusely. Her younger child looked confused as the mother was crying, but the father had tears in his eyes as he consoled the younger child. It was epic.”
The Foundation annually awards about $1.4 million in scholarships to students. According to the Polk State Foundation, about 60% of the Fancelli Scholarships are utilized upon graduation from high school. Fancelli Scholarships are self-sustaining, but donations to support Polk State students are needed and can be made by visiting the Foundation’s website.
“I’m just so thankful for this opportunity for my girl,” Vega said. “I don’t have the words to say how thankful I am.”
Previously principal at Blake and Medulla elementary schools, Richardson is proud to have seen so many students earn a Fancelli scholarship over the years.
“This is well deserved,” Richardson said. “Maite is a leader among her peers. She’s a great student and an extremely hard worker.”
Maite was chosen among about 540 students at Purcell Elementary – a school with a nearly 50% Hispanic population.
“Each presentation has its own sentiments, but this one was more emotional and rewarding,” McGriff added. “As a former elementary teacher, I understand the struggles of elementary (English to Speakers of Other Languages) students and the tremendous amount of effort they devote to their academics along with the chores and responsibilities at home. This award was a true testament to the hard work and dedication this family has invested in Maite. It was extremely rewarding to be able to witness the diligence of the student and the gratitude of the family.”
A native of the Mulberry area, Maite has made the honor roll for every report card since she started kindergarten at Purcell. The oldest of five siblings, she hopes to one day become a nurse. Once she utilizes her scholarship, Maite will be the first member of her family to attend college.
“She’s a really good student,” her mother said. “She never wants to miss school and works as hard as she can. She does whatever she can to be a good student. There are no words to say how proud I am of my girl.”