Elmont Avenue resident Gianna Buccieri, a junior at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, is grateful for the support of friends and teachers and a scholarship she received that allowed her to continue with her studies despite financial hardship that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Courtesy of Julie Robinson
Elmont Avenue resident Gianna Buccieri, a junior at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, is grateful for the support of friends and teachers and a scholarship she received that allowed her to continue with her studies despite financial hardship that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Julie Robinson

Gianna Buccieri dreams of breaking barriers and bursting through the glass ceiling by working as a strong woman in the STEM fields.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 16-year-old junior at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale was initially afraid it would set her back in achieving those aspirations.

“Finances were already really tight. And then when my mom lost her jobs, I started to question everything,” Buccieri said. Currently, the family survives solely on her father’s salary from the U.S. Postal Service. “I thought I’d have to transfer schools because we weren’t sure if we’d be able to pay the tuition. I would have been completely lost. I’ve found a home there; I’m involved. If I moved into a different environment it would have been really scary.”

But the tides changed for Buccieri, and now, all she feels is thankful. She’s grateful for the friends, teachers and guidance counselors who saw her through these trying times emotionally and feels particularly appreciative for a large scholarship that allowed her to stay enrolled at her dream school.

Tuition at Maria Regina High School costs around $12,000. But Buccieri, who has always taken academia seriously, strives to keep the burden on her family low. She developed a good work ethic in middle school and dedicated countless hours to her studies for the sake of the fate of her high school career—she knew she needed to earn a scholarship to go to a Catholic institution that aligned with her values.

And she did.

As a freshman, Buccieri became a recipient of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, a program largely supported by donors that financially supports over 8,000 Catholic students in need. Buccieri’s scholarship has taken thousands of dollars off her tuition expenses annually, she said.

However, even with the scholarship, tuition became too burdensome when the Buccieri family’s financial struggles were exacerbated by the pandemic. But her fate was saved when she discovered this fall that she qualified for even more help through the same organization.

The Inner-City Scholarship Fund established the COVID-19 Emergency Tuition Relief program for students like Buccieri who have faced hardships this year. The scholarship, which allowed her to continue with her junior year of high school, was funded by John and Daria Barry—trustees of the John and Daria Barry Foundation that has donated millions to the Inner-City Scholarship Fund over the past decade.

“I am so thankful to the Barrys for my Inner-City scholarship,” Buccieri wrote in a statement. “If it wasn’t for them, I would not be able to go to my dream school, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through this year without the support of my teachers and friends.”

When Maria Regina High School shifted to remote learning in March—a learning style it hasn’t swayed from since—Buccieri said it was difficult adjusting at first.

“Having everyone at home made it difficult to work at first,” she said. “Because everyone is in and out usually, having everyone at home suddenly was really stressful. We had to find a middle ground to work while all in one place.”

Part of the stress relief came from the school community, Buccieri said. Describing her friends and teachers as “the most understanding people,” she said being able to stay connected with them through the internet and video-chat technologies has been critical for her mental health.

She’s particularly grateful because this would have been a hard year to transfer schools. Buccieri is a junior—it’s college application season—and she relies on the support she’s come to know well to guide her through the process.

With her eye on the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., she’s eager to continue her education at the high school she loves and trusts to help her pursue her dreams.

“Since freshman year, I knew I was interested in engineering,” Buccieri said. “I’ve liked science since I was young. Everything I do, just looking at the world around me, I like to understand how things work and why they work. I truly enjoy solving problems and building things, so engineering fits that. And my school has helped me so much in the college application process and preparing to be a woman in STEM.”