Holland High School senior Paul Betancourt-Mejia will be suiting up with the school’s football team against Ottawa Hills Grand Rapids Friday thanks to a local businessman whose generosity helped Paul and more than 80 other area students take summer school classes and regain standings with their class.
The Holland Dutch senior safety and cornerback made up four classes this summer through tuition grants from Zeeland’s Primera Plastics Inc. President Noel Cuellar to put Paul back on track for graduating in 2016.
Making up the classes also made him eligible to participate in football this season for Holland High which prohibits students with low grades or failed classes from playing sports.
For the third year in a row, Cuellar and Primera Plastics split $10,000 in tuition grants between Holland Schools and neighboring West Ottawa Public Schools so students could afford the per class tuition and keep standing in their classes.
“I missed a lot of school last year because I was working a night job and I got way behind in my classes.
I’m not going to make that mistake again,” said Betancourt-Mejia, 17, who this summer made up courses in British Literature, Government, Economics and Spanish.
About 80 summer school students at Holland Public Schools’ VR Tech High School, West Ottawa High School and the district’s Dunes Alternative High School shared this year’s $10,000 Primera Plastics grant. Since 2012, Primera has helped more than 250 students in the two districts with summer school tuition.
“I didn’t apply myself in high school. And being a Hispanic-American, I could have easily fallen through the cracks. But along the way, I realized I needed to create my own destiny and decided education and hard work was the way,” said Cuellar who went to Grand Rapids Community College at 24 to study for a degree in plastics manufacturing after graduating from Holland High School.
In addition to the tuition grants, Cuellar also provides after school jobs at Primera for area high school students and frequently speaks at area schools to student groups on the importance of education and setting personal goals for their future.
“I really appreciate the help from Mr. Cuellar to be able to take all those classes, to graduate with my class and play football in my senior year,” Paul said, noting he planned to write a letter of thanks for the grants he received.
Holland Schools Summer School Director and Dutch Assistant Coach Zach Kapla said the tuition grants are a big help to students who might not otherwise be able to afford the summer school tuition.
“Paul is a great kid who like other students taking summer classes just got off track. It’s great that Primera is willing to help our students like this,” he said.
West Ottawa High School Principal Todd Tulgestke said the summer tuition grants from Primera Plastics the past three years have been a significant benefit to disadvantaged students in the district to regain credits and keep up with their classes.
“The tuition grant program has been huge success here,” he said.
“It’s been big help for first generation students making up classes they have failed and keep them motivated to graduate and perhaps go on to college,” said Tulgestke noting an average about 40 students each summer have received tuition grants of $125 per class towards summer school costs.
Cuellar founded Primera Plastics in 1994. The company manufactures plastic components for the auto and office furniture industries and has $25 million a year sales and 135 employees.
During the past year, Cuellar started doing nearly weekly speaking visits to area high school classes to encourage low achieving students to stay in school and think of future careers they would want.
“I tell them ‘it is never too early to begin planning what you want to do with your life,’” he said. “I encourage them to defy the low expectations others may have of them and become their own person.”
Holland High’s Heritage Speakers / Spanish 5 Class would like you to join them in celebrating a number of the achievements, memorable people, and key moments in history connected to this special time. The students are eager to share their stories and links with you. See a new post in this spot every day through October 15 and join in the celebration! Resources Smithsonian Education Música del Pueblo www.hispanicheritagemonth.org/ National HIspanic American Heritage Month . . .