Now in their teens and entering college, these children of Hillsborough immigrants rise together
Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Times
April 8, 2016 – RUSKIN — On school mornings, Fernanda Gonzalez uses the light from her phone to guide her along the desolate road to her bus stop in Wimauma.
Behind her is the mobile home her parents, immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, purchased after decades of farm labor that took them to a half-dozen states.
Ahead of her: a day at Lennard High, followed by classes at Hillsborough Community College just across the street, and — with a lot more work and a little good fortune — a future far beyond the fields.
Fernanda is part of an elite group of 15- and 16-year-old students who hope to graduate from Lennard in 2018 with two years of college under their belts. It’s a highly demanding program with hurdles that can trip a student with no motivation or help. But she isn’t doing any of this alone.
Tutors help her with math.
Friends join with her in study groups.
A charter school with a nurturing atmosphere and high expectations saw her through eighth grade.
A third-grade teacher gave so much homework she cried.
A fourth-grade teacher sparked her love of books with a movie bribe.
Older students who looked like her said to keep studying.
“They inspired me,” said Fernanda, who is preparing for a career in pulmonary medicine, motivated by her own struggle with asthma. If she has to leave the state for a scholarship, that’s fine.
“It’s my future,” she said, sitting outside her parents’ mobile home, with her father listening approvingly.
“I love my family. But I’m also creating my future, and I have to do whatever it takes to get there.”