Two Puerto Rican high school students who came to Orlando to escape the destruction from Hurricane Maria were surprised today with scholarships from Valencia College and the University of Central Florida.
Yerianne Roldan and Zuleyka Avila were seniors at Ramey School and University Gardens High School, respectively, in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit in late September. Yerianne and her family relocated to Orlando for her mother’s job, and Zuleyka fled the island to live with her grandfather and siblings in Orlando. Both girls, 17 years old, enrolled at Colonial High School to finish their senior years and left behind plans they already had in place to attend college in Puerto Rico. Neither of them know at this point if they can or will return to the island.
In an effort to help the students still pursue a higher education, Linda Neal, dean of communication from Valencia College’s East Campus, and Adrienne Frame, associate vice president and dean of students at UCF, joined Jesus Jara, deputy superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, and Jose Martinez, Colonial High School principal, to surprise the girls and their families with commitments to help them financially should they choose to attend Valencia and then transfer to UCF through DirectConnect to UCF to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
The surprise happened at Colonial’s Media Center and left both the girls and their families in tears.
“I’m just so happy to now have some help,” Zuleyka said. Her mother is in Puerto Rico trying to sell whatever she can before permanently relocating to Orlando.
“Family is still in Puerto Rico and communication is really hard. They try to seem happy and ask me how things are going here. I’m so lucky for the situation I’m in. I wish everyone had the same,” Yerianne said.
Over the past few days, Yerianne and her family had been discussing what options are available for her to attend college and what scholarships she could pursue. The financial assistance offered to her today took a heavy weight off her shoulders, she said.
Jara praised the girls for their rigorous class schedules at Colonial, as both are enrolled in numerous Advanced Placement courses. Yerianne aspires to study graphic design or advertising, and Zuleyka aspires to be a pediatrician.
Martinez also applauded the strong partnership between the school district, Valencia and UCF that has helped impact the lives of these students for the better.
“At UCF, we believe in harnessing the power of scale to transform the lives and livelihoods of our students and their families through the pursuit of higher education,” said Frame. “We are so happy to join our partners to help these students.”
UCF is offering in-state tuition next semester to Puerto Rican students impacted by Hurricane Maria. More than 800 students from Puerto Rico since have applied to UCF, said Frame.
For more on what help is available at UCF for students impacted by the hurricane, see here.