HOMETOWN: The Villages, FL
YEARS IN AREA: 4
By Loraine O’Connell
From the time she was in elementary school, Samantha Chavez has received speech therapy. In second grade, her parents were informed by her public school that she also had an auditory processing disability. She received help with her studies until fifth grade, when further testing defined her as “borderline.” She managed to graduate from high school and enrolled in a private college’s new program for at-risk students, but she could not pass her math and science classes.
“I didn’t feel like anybody understood what was going on with me,” said Samantha, now 23.
Her next stop was a state college where she received accommodations including extra time on tests and a quiet space to study. Still, she wrestled with math. When her mother did some research and learned about Beacon College, the family toured the campus, which is near their home in The Villages.
“Samantha really liked it and applied that day,” Carmelita Chavez said. “Within the next week, she was accepted and given scholarships and funds that were available from the state and privately through Beacon. Nobody had ever offered us any kind of assistance.”
Samantha noticed the Beacon College difference quickly. “I was a little bit nervous because the other two schools didn’t work out so well, but in my first week, I noticed the environment was different,” she said. “I’d walk into a class and someone would come up to me and introduce themselves. I didn’t have that at other schools.”
Her academic experiences changed dramatically, as well. She received straight A’s for the first time last semester at Beacon, a nonprofit liberal arts school, and feels like she understands the material better. One of those A’s was in math, a subject she failed repeatedly at her previous colleges.
“The classes are smaller, and the teachers personally know the students,” Carmelita said of Beacon, which educates students who learn differently. “They look at each student as an individual and take into consideration that not everybody learns the same way.”
Samantha, a psychology major, expects to graduate in about 12 months and wants to pursue a master’s degree so that she can work in the mental health field. She feels well prepared for graduate-level studies.
“I’ve learned what my strengths and weaknesses are,” she said. “In the past year, I feel like I’ve gotten my confidence back; confidence that I can learn and understand.”