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Homestead woman uses $250K of her savings to open school

Zoraida Villanueva wants to make a difference for local children

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Bringing hope to elementary school students in Homestead was more than just wishful thinking for Zoraida Villanueva. She used $250,000 of her savings to fund her dream and open a new school.

All 136 students at Villa Preparatory Academy are her students. She owns the private school.

The 28-year-old wife and mother taught one year in public schools and then started a tutoring business.

Four years later, that business and her bank account had grown.

"It meant nothing to have money there when I knew that 10 years ago I was one of those kids," she says.

Villanueva was born and raised in poverty.

"Growing up here in Homestead I got the shorter end of the stick because we're stuck with the stigma. Everyone thinks you're ghetto, poor, don't know English," she said.

But she found her way out through education and wants her students to do the same.

"I want these kids to know from day one you can be whatever you want to be. I want them to be surrounded by teachers who care about them and believe in them," Villanueva said.

Almost all of the students who attend Villa Preparatory Academy are there because they come from low income families or have learning difficulties that qualify them for state education vouchers.

"We expect our students to perform at their top. I have some very low students but I always tell their parents, 'You better believe by the end of the year you will see a significant difference,'" said Villanueva.

As a reward for their hard work, Villanueva's students may get a chance to go places far away from Homestead.

We're going to incorporate New York City into our curriculum -- all about New York City, the history of New York City, the things to see over there," she said. "In April, I'm hoping to tell them, 'We are going to take you all to New York City.'"

You can keep up with the school and the students on the Villa Preparatory Academy Facebook Page.