Step Up For Students
by Lisa A. Davis, Assistant Director, Strategic Marketing Communications, Step Up For Students
Space Coast — Summer/Fall 2019 3
Space Coast — Summer/Fall 2019 3
After Angela Becker was born prematurely,
weighing in at a mere two pounds, she left the
hospital for the first time nine weeks later with a
calendar filled with therapy appointments.
At nine months, she was diagnosed with
epilepsy and by the time she was six, she received
another diagnosis, mild cerebral palsy. At eleven
it was autism.
“Every time you receive a diagnosis, you
go through that mourning process,” said her
mother, Rori Becker, owner and founder of
Perhaps what was more challenging was the
result of an IQ test in the third grade on which
Angela scored quite low.
It was then her neighborhood school principal
gave her a new – and to her mother – unexpected
To Angela’s mother the label was also something
Even though the principal said Angela was
welcome to stay at school, Becker thought
homeschooling seemed to be the best option.
At this point, Angela was struggling at school,
not because she didn’t necessarily understand
what she was learning, her mother said, but
because it takes her a little longer to complete
“Her IQ was so low,’ Becker said. “But if you
give her time, she tests at almost average.”
Once she started homeschooling her, Becker
saw up close what she always knew.
“She’s very teachable, but you have to give
her direct instructions,” she said. “She doesn’t
pick up the stuff that comes naturally for other
At home in Altamonte Springs, Becker could
try different teaching techniques to see what
“Once she started typing that just opened up
everything for her,” she said.
Angela thrived academically. “Homeschooling
saved my life,” Angela, now 21, said recently.
There was one key skill she was still missing,
however, and that was socializing, and the price
tag was already steep for all the therapies.
“I heard about Step Up For Students and I
didn’t do anything for a year, because I thought it
was too good to be true,” Becker said.
But then she applied for a Gardiner Scholarship
through Step Up For Students and learned
it was real.
The Gardiner Scholarship for children with
certain special needs or unique abilities provides
a variety of education options for eligible Florida
schoolchildren. On average, a student receives
about $10,000 annually to be used on approved
private schools, curriculum for homeschooling,
certain therapies, educational tools and even
a college saving account. It allows parents to
customize the education of their child to fit their
Angela used it in part for social thinking
therapy. With the help of the Gardiner Scholarship
in her senior year of high school, building
those social skills changed everything for Angela
“There’s no way we could have afforded that,”
Becker said. “It was key to sending her out into
the world. She can hold her own for a while
Angela received her high school diploma in
2016 and then an associate degree from Seminole
State College after successfully completing the
dual enrollment program. Today, she is a junior
at the University of Central Florida majoring in
creative writing. She maintains a high GPA to be
on the President’s List. And, she lives on campus
– something she and her parents didn’t know if
she would ever do.
“I think if it weren’t for the Gardiner Scholarship
and I wasn’t able to afford social thinking
therapy, I would be a lot more autistic than I
seem to be. I wouldn’t have learned, I wouldn’t
have had that epiphany that I can be okay
socially,” Angela said.
So the young girl who was deemed “uneducable”
all those years ago will graduate from
college next year with a bachelor’s degree and a
certificate in technical editing. Angela is set to
embark on a technical editing career, all because
of the love and patience of a mother, and a little
help from the Gardiner Scholarship.
“Life is much harder for her,” said Becker, her
mother, “but she’s not going to let anything get
in her way.”
Step Up For Students is a state-approved nonprofit
scholarship funding organization based in
Florida serving more than 107,000 students with
four scholarship programs. To learn more, please