BROOKSVILLE — Johnny Lopez has a lot going on in his young life. He is 18 and finishing high school. He wants to attend college. He wants to gain custody of his 1-year-old son, Isaiah. It hasn't been easy.
"I honestly didn't see myself graduating," he said about the high school he was attending. He needed something that worked for him.
He found that at the STAR Education Center, an alternative school for students who need an different learning environment.
Lopez heard about TOPP, a program offered at STAR for students who need to work at an individual pace to be successful. The program had an opening, and he jumped at it.
"A lot more options opened up for me,'' he said. "Now I'm enrolled in college. I start Aug. 13." Lopez will be attending Hillsborough Community College.
"This diploma means a lot to me," he said, explaining that on paper, "it looks better than a GED."
It didn't come easily.
"If you mess up," Lopez said about TOPP, "they don't hesitate to give you the boot, so you have to hold on to it tight."
Lopez worries about Isaiah, who lives in Virginia with his mother. He says he doesn't know who is around him. He wants him here.
After graduating, Lopez will live in Hillsborough County with his brother and his sister-in-law. At the community college, Lopez said, he'll get his required courses done and then decide on a major.
He may try to do something in history.
Lopez began at STAR in December and said that things have really turned around for him. "Most definitely, more weight off my shoulders."
He said he escaped people who were bad influences.
He has a possible job set up for the summer, a place to live, plans for his education and hopes of getting his son back.
"I find myself going in a different direction," he said.