Isabela Pedro will graduate from Florida’s Indian River State College on April 30. She is 25, a single mother of a nine-year-old, and the hard-working daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. Though shy, her smile could melt a glacier.
When her family came to the United States several decades ago, they settled near Indiantown, a former Seminole trading post in the Florida hinterlands, surrounded by acres of citrus groves, cane fields, vegetable farms and ranches.
The dusty town of 6000 is half an hour from the pomp and posh of Palm Beach. But but for Isabel and her family, Indiantown offered greater riches than any found on Worth Avenue when they discovered the Hope Rural School.
(Isabela, in pink dress, with her brother and sisters, and Antonio, the Hope Rural School coach)
Created in 1980 as a learning center and refuge for children of migrant workers, Hope Rural has grown from one classroom housing 30 first and second grade students to a fully accredited institution offering classes to 125 students, Pre-K through Grade 5, on a seven-building campus. Though a minimal tuition is charged, Hope Rural School exists almost entirely through the generosity of others.
Since the beginning, Hope Rural School has been enriched by the dedication and commitment of teaching orders, including the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of Charity from Cincinnati and presently the Dominicans of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin.
Director Sister Elizabeth Dunn’s philosophical lifeblood is her “belief in the importance of the gift of a quality education,” and Isabel literally tore the wrappings off that gift.
“I arrived at Hope Rural as a kindergartner,” she says. “It was such a happy place, with caring teachers. I remember the interesting classroom activities and field trips. My last year there we went to the Islands of Adventure in Orlando — it was so much fun!”
The then-sixth-grader attended middle school, followed by several years at a community high school near Indiantown. “But I got pregnant and had to drop out to care for my child, so it took several years before I was able to get my diploma from the Adult Learning Center. To pass the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), I had to take the reading section twice — it was hard! But I did it.”
Isabela applied to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce. She says, “I needed money for tuition and to care for my child, so I had to work and could only take one or two classes a semester.” But she persevered and Isabel will graduate next month with a degree in business.
Her goal? “I want to get a job with a great company where I can do accounting and bookkeeping. I want to learn more skills. I want to earn enough money to afford nice things. And I’d like to help my parents as they grow older.”
(Isabela, in pink dress, with her mother and siblings in the Hope Rural School garden)
The Pedro family still lives in Indiantown. Isabel’s father is a landscaper and her stay-at-home mom tends to Isabel’s five brothers and sister. Isabela says, “Even though we have all graduated from Hope Rural school, we are still part of the Hope Rural family — and always will be.”
With the quality education she received there, Hope Rural School is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”
President John F. Kennedy