Valedictorian’s Turnaround Came in Third Grade
"If not for third grade intervention, I would be just an average student."
May 25, 2017
This year’s valedictorian for Poinciana High was not always a top student.
In fact, senior Branden Fernandez, who now has a weighted grade point average of 4.43, was on track to nearly fail the third grade.
His third grade teacher reached out to Branden Fernandez’s stepmother, Mily Fernandez. That’s when everything changed.
That same afternoon, Mily grabbed her son’s backpack and shook all of the contents on to the kitchen table.
What she found told the story.
The young Branden Fernandez, who would one day be at the top of his class, would ball up pieces of paper and throw them into the bottom of his backpack, neglecting to not only submit any work to the teacher but not even make an attempt to complete the assignments.
Mily unraveled each handout and assignment that was not only wrinkled, but also blank.
Branden said he remembers that day well.
“I sat at the kitchen table and cried all evening as I completed each assignment with her standing over me,” he said.
From that day forward, Mily Fernandez held her stepson accountable. She even added her own assignment: Read aloud for 45 minutes each day.
“I made sure he read aloud because otherwise he could just pretend to read,” said Mily, who works as an insurance agent.
She said that while he was reading aloud, she would stop and ask questions to check for comprehension and she would listen to ensure he pronounced words correctly.
Branden Fernandez said that it was this intervention in the third grade by his stepmother that changed his life.
“She helped to turn me around to be the self-motivated person I am today,” said Branden Fernandez, who plans to attend the University of Central Florida on a full scholarship and major in accounting and finance. “When I slacked off, she was there.”
He said that after a few years, getting good grades and completing assignments became second nature.
“I began to feel guilty if I didn’t do my very best in school,” Branden Fernandez said.
Mily said that it will be an emotional moment to watch her son take the stage and deliver his valedictorian address.
“As a parent, all you want for your child is the best,” said Mily. “When I see him on that stage, my heart is going to melt.”
Branden Fernandez said his speech will be inspiring and will cover topics relatable to his fellow class members.
The advice he gives future hopeful valedictorians: “Don’t stress too much. Just do your very best and the rest will fall into place.”
Abdjiel Fontanez is the salutatorian of the 2017 graduating class at Poinciana.
Poinciana High School’s graduation ceremony will be at 6 p.m. on Friday at the Silver Spurs Arena.