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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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An obstacle-filled journey culminates in graduation
By BETH N. GRAY
Published May 24, 2007
SPRING HILL - Lisa Batta bounced from school to school to school during her high school years, through little fault of her own.
Initially, she was a student at Central High School, but attendance zones were changed and Batta, a resident of Nodoc Road, was sent to Hernando High. In her senior year, she went to Nature Coast Technical High School.
She earned all of the credits needed to graduate. "I wasn't behind, " she said.
But the FCAT dogged her.
The first time she took the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, she missed a passing grade by a mere 10 points. The second time by five; then by just a single point.
"Instead of me dropping out, I ended up in Nature Coast's adult education program, three times a week, three hours a night, " she said.
Said her mother, Loretta Batta, "It was crazy for her. All the obstacles, she didn't give up." Her father is Mark Batta.
Lisa Batta studied American history, fourth-level English, American government on-line and even took an elective in culinary arts in the program.
She added on-the-job training to her curriculum with a job in a family framing business. Now, at age 20, she works at Prestige Homes of the Suncoast Inc. in Weeki Wachee, where she serves as a receptionist and handles paperwork and blueprints.
All the while, she has been pursuing a standard high school diploma, not one achieved by passing the General Educational Development test.
In the process, she seems to have conquered the standardized test-taking challenge by scoring well on the ACT, a college entrance exam.
Batta's success thrilled her friends at the adult education program.
"The whole office was jumping up and down, " said Harry Wilson, the program's director.
"She's just a great kid. We're so happy to see her succeed."
Batta is just as excited. "Now, I can get my diploma, and I'm so happy, " she said. "I get to walk (across the stage)."
Commencement is tonight, starting at 7:30, at Nature Coast Technical High School. Batta will be one of nine students earning a regular high school diploma.
She isn't finished as a student yet. Through her work at Prestige Homes, she's cultivated an interest in business and aims to pursue business studies at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Wilson said the program has credited more than 300 students with diplomas this year. About 60 are taking the opportunity to receive their certificates by hand in the commencement ceremony.