Angel Moreta grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, first in Massachusetts, then Michigan, and, when he turned five years old, Florida. His family, who had come to America from the Dominican Republic, settled in Miami Gardens before moving again, this time to Sarasota. Books, particularly the letters and words that filled them, fascinated Angel, and on his own, as a child, he began to decode the symbols on the pages, connecting them to the pictures, making sense of this new mystery. Through what Angel describes as “brute force,” he learned how to read English. Angel took refuge in books and soon would escape into worlds where a mouse named Geronimo Stilton would always end up on some far-flung new adventure. He loved to imagine the foreign places he would visit with the reluctant mouse. His love of reading grew to the point that he started picking new books based mostly on their size. The more pages, the better—it meant he wouldn’t have to find a new one so soon after beginning it. At one point, the librarian at his elementary school made him take a reading comprehension test because she was so convinced that he couldn’t read the book he wanted to check out. He aced the test and proudly walked home with a more expansive world in his hands. If reading provided a virtual refuge, he found a physical one in an unfinished room off one of the bedrooms in the house where his parents settled in Sarasota. In this room, cooler than the others with all its exposed concrete, Angel and his older brother set up an old TV and their Sega Genius gaming console. Money has always been tight in Angel’s house, so he and his brother couldn’t afford many video games, but they had Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and a few others. During this time, Angel’s parents argued. Worried that he was the source of their fighting, he liked most to be alone in the little room, maneuvering the animated hedgehog, guiding it through world after world. With video games, he could visit foreign places, but he felt more in control. He discovered a new love that continues to inspire him today: computer sciences. After his parents divorced, Angel’s dad returned to Massachusetts. In a single-family home, as he reached middle school, Angel often found himself alone. The family had an old PC, and Angel would spend hours finding out all that it could do. As he said, “I was raised in part by the internet.” He was also developing his knowledge of computers and his passion for technology. During the first full school year of Covid, though, Angel struggled academically, and his grades slid. Then he and his younger sister moved with his mom and her new partner to Atlanta, and then to Sarasota again when that didn’t work out. Back in Florida, Angel’s mom enrolled her son in Sarasota Military Academy (SMA), where his grades began to improve and where he started thinking more about his life after high school. Angel knew he wanted to attend college, but where—and what the application process looked like—were a mystery. And he needed to find ways to pay for it.
Early in this school year, Angel, now a senior, walked along his school’s courtyard and passed a table with a bowl full of candy. The pull of candy is strong, so he stopped. And he met two new additions at SMA, Diana Berris and Sarah Harding, both Education Foundation of Sarasota County Student Success Coaches who had just opened the Student Success Center on the SMA campus. Angel got his piece of candy and made a connection with the Student Success Coaches. Soon he visited the Student Success Center, where he is now a fixture. For most of this year, he has visited almost every day. He has searched for the right colleges, completed his FAFSA, found one-on-one help drafting his college essay, and completed all his applications. Now he is busy working with his coaches to find scholarships so he can succeed in earning a college degree. Beyond the practical assistance, he has made friends with his coaches who help him stay focused on his studies and who share life skills. They invited Angel to join the Students Active in Leadership (S.A.I.L.) peer-to-peer leadership program, and he now serves as the vice president. He attends monthly S.A.I.L. meetings with his peers, learning life skills, which he shares with other classmates to help them get ready and to build a culture of readiness throughout the school. Even when he’s not preparing for college or completing scholarship applications, Angel still visits the center. It is a place where he feels comfortable, a place where he finds other students equally focused on planning and preparing for what awaits them after graduation.
In the fall, Angel will attend Florida Polytechnic University, where he will pursue a career in computer sciences. While he is still busy trying to find more scholarships, he is excited to blend his love of books, video games, and computer technology into a career pathway. He feels ready for his next journey, ready to find new mysteries to make sense of—and a new place where he feels at home.