Several times a week Stephanie Flores stays late at school, until the custodians or night staff shoo her away. If a teacher or an administrator is in on a holiday, it’s likely you’ll find the 18-year-old Southridge High senior hunched over a keyboard, too.
Stephanie doesn’t have a computer at home. She doesn’t have internet access or a Facebook account either. Or a smart phone or a tablet or an e-reader — none of those electronic marvels many take for granted. This makes doing homework, completing research projects and applying for college and financial aid a daunting task, one that requires an inordinate amount of organization, patience and planning.
“I don’t care what kind of computer I get,” Stephanie said. “Any system is fine with me as long as I have internet. It would make doing a lot of things easier and I could do a lot more too.”
Stephanie’s mother, Alba Flores, worries that her only daughter will miss important college application deadlines for the lack of a computer.
“We do without many things, but to see her struggle so much” Flores voice trailed off. Tears welled in her eyes. “She is such a good girl and very dedicated to her studies. She may forget to eat, but she won’t forget to do her schoolwork.”
Stephanie carries a full schedule of challenging classes, including two Advanced Placement courses. Despite some financial challenges, she has maintained an unweighted grade point average of 3.4 and a weighted GPA of 4.4. She has also tallied more than 3,000 community service hours in her four years of high school.
This past summer she attended the Partners in Progress Program at Florida International University, a partnership between FIU and Miami Dade County Public schools that introduces 11th graders to college life by offering college level courses. With help from the FIU program director, she finished her application to FIU. She also will be applying to other local schools, including the University of Miami. She would be the first one in her family to attend college, an accomplishment not lost on her mother.
“This is important for her but also for us,” Flores said. “We are very proud of her.”
As a freshman, Stephanie’s dedication caught the attention of Darlene Plummer, Southridge’s community involvement specialist. She introduced Stephanie to the Essence of Sisterhood/Women of Tomorrow club. Before long. Stephanie also had become an active member of the English Honors Society. It’s Plummer who makes sure “my baby girl” has access to the office computer in the evenings and holidays.
“Teachers will give her a project over the holidays, especially the AP teachers, and what is she supposed to do for research and printing?” Plummer said. “It’s sad that she doesn’t have these things because she’s a very hard worker.”
Stephanie’s thoughtfulness and motivation to overcome obstacles also caught the eye of Brandy Avila, a financial aid adviser at uAspire, a nonprofit that partners with high schools, community organizations, and colleges to provide college affordability advice to young people and their families. She nominated Stephanie for the Miami Herald Wishbook, hoping readers fulfill her holiday wish of a computer, printer and internet access.
“She has great grades, she’s very involved in school, and she’s a good candidate for college. She needs to be given opportunities. Yet she’s limited by not having access to technology,” Davila explained.
Stephanie’s family has always emphasized education. Her parents, Alba and Nelson Flores, both 56, once scrimped to send her to a private school because they wanted an alternative to the overcrowded and low-performing elementary in her neighborhood.
“I’ve always wanted her to have a good future,” Flores said, “and I believe that will come through education.”
But a series of job layoffs devastated the family finances. Nelson Flores has not been able to find stable employment for almost a decade. Now, both he and his wife run a small business selling leather goods at a flea market. They also clean offices and homes. Alba sells Avon products and flowers.
“Anything that needs to be done, we do,” Alba Flores said.
Three months ago Alba Flores landed a job as a cafeteria worker at Coral Reef High School. That steady income is enough “so we’re not constantly worried about losing our home,” she added.
Stephanie wants to study biology in college and return to the classroom to teach. She enjoys tutoring classmates. When they earn a good grade, she feels a special boost of accomplishment.
“It’s such a great feeling to explain something step by step and see somebody get it,” Stephanie said. “It’s like opening another world to them.”
Internet at home will open a world for Stephanie too, said Davila of uAspire.
“If there is one person who can really benefit from a computer and internet access, it’s Stephanie for sure.”