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With family trapped in Venezuela, Florida student determined to finish high school

Teachers, school supporting student going it alone

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Venezuelan American student is supporting herself through school while her family is stuck in Venezuela.

Kayla Martinez was born in the U.S., but the rest of her family was not.
            
In 2011, the family visited Venezuela, as they did once a year, but this time, the Venezuelan government blocked them from returning to the U.S.

Over the years the family attempted 16 times to obtain visas, and they were all denied.
            
Last year, the family made the decision that Martinez should return to finish her high school education--without the rest of the family.
            
Martinez, now 19, is a senior at Cypress Creek High School, and with the help of school administrators, she will finish her education.
            
Martinez has made numerous friends in musical theater, but her life is unlike most of her classmates'.  

She works two part-time jobs. She catches Sunrail and a bus to get to her jobs at a mall, and at the end of the day, she takes an Uber home.

The teen also juggles schoolwork and finding time to practice for school productions.

"I try to balance it all," she said. But sometimes it takes a toll.

"I just get sad, like, 'Oh my gosh I can't do this," she said. "I get depressed. Sometimes, I think it's too much."

Also adding to the stress, is that Martinez never shared with her friends or school administrators that she was doing it alone until she had a toothache and had to go to the school nurse. 

She ended up sharing that she didn't have insurance or money to go to a dentist.  The nurse then referred her to the school's SAFE coordinator, Sheena Montgomery. Martinez said finally sharing her truth changed everything.

"That's when I was like oh, I should have told someone before," she said.

She calls her Montgomery, her musical theater teacher, Jeff Williams, and her principal Dr. John Mchale her family.

Talking about them is the only time she breaks down during our interview.

"I'm just really grateful that because I said, what was going on I've been getting so much help," she said. 

Mchale says he knew Martinez from her school performances, but had no idea what she was going through.

"It was kind of sad," he said.  "I have this young child here who shouldn't be worried about her teeth and how to feed herself and how to get to school."

School administrators are helping Martinez get what she needs, and while she never considered it before, now there is even talk of going to college.

"Seeing a student like that going through all the trials and tribulations and still come out the other side gives me hope that this world is in a far better place with kids like Kayla," McHale said.

"I know if I need something or if I'm feeling some type of way, I have people i can go to now," Kayla said. 

Martinez is graduating on May 28. She's been accepted at two colleges with partial scholarships.

She's having surgery next week to have her wisdom teeth removed, and a local dentist has agreed to do it free of charge, according to Mchale.

Orange County Public School's foundation has a fund to help students like Martinez who are pursuing the arts.


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