Of Peers and Pirouettes

Lake Wales Peer Leaders Gabriella Tolento (left), Isabel (Izzy) Wadsworth (center), Sadie Marston (right).

Lake Wales Peer Leaders Gabriella Tolento (left), Isabel (Izzy) Wadsworth (center), Sadie Marston (right).

Next fall, Izzy, a senior and Peer Leader at Lake Wales Charter High School, is heading to Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. She earned a tennis scholarship and looks forward to the student-athlete life, but she very nearly went in another direction.

Dance was Izzy’s first love. Under the tutelage of her octogenarian Finnish ballet teacher, she maintained a relentless rehearsal schedule alongside her studies and tennis practice. Accomplishing the pirouette—the famously difficult twirl—became the subject of the personal statement she submitted with many of her college applications: “Staying grounded and focused,” she wrote, comparing the dance move to what it takes to overcome life’s difficulties, “finishing what I had started, holding my head high even in times of failure, taking deep breaths when it seemed my whole world was falling apart, and staying graceful when I could’ve easily come undone.”

These guidelines also served Izzy well throughout her mother’s diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. “I realized I needed an escape and worked harder than ever on dance and tennis,” she recalls. The personal crisis nearly caused her to limit her college applications to schools in Florida, but with her mother’s cancer is in remission, Izzy is now proud of her decision to go out of state.

Izzy says she is profoundly grateful for College Summit’s investment in the lives of students like herself and her classmates, who are pushing themselves to reach higher. In addition to running FAFSA and college

application campaigns at Lake Wales, Izzy and her fellow Peer Leaders have emphasized the importance of viewing colleges as a demanding consumer. “Colleges should roll out the red carpet for you,” she insists. “They need to find the value in you.

The intense summer workshop was Izzy’s favorite part of the PeerForward experience. “I came to truly understand that everybody has a story to tell,” she says. “They coached us on how to break through the wall of awkwardness and look people straight in the eye.” Izzy is one of Lake Wales’s International Baccalaureate students, and it took practice to approach classmates who aren’t in the program. “But once the connection is made,” she says, “There’s no stopping us.”



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