FORT POLK— In a scene reminiscent of the Publisher’s Clearing House van pulling up to announce its next annual winner, a Fort Polk teen saw a dream come true Jan. 19 thanks to the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.

Leila Escoto, 16, was picked up from Leesville High School by her mom, Ava Parke, shortly after 10 a.m. for what the youngster thought was a doctor’s appointment. But instead of heading to a clinic, Escoto’s mom took her home. As she exited the vehicle, an LSMSA van pulled up in front of her house and five members of the staff and faculty exited with balloons, a sign and an acceptance packet naming Escoto the first student accepted into the school for the 2018-2019 school year.

“What is this?” Escoto asked, then broke into first a smile, and then tears as she realized what was happening.

“I can’t believe it,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “This is incredible.”

Escoto was the first of an anticipated 150-160 students who will begin school in the fall at the prestigious LSMSA, located in Natchitoches on the campus of Northwestern State University.

Escoto said acceptance at LSMSA was a dream come true.

“I first heard about the school in the seventh grade from my gifted program teacher, and ever since it’s been my dream to attend,” Escoto said. “Nothing that I’ve heard of offers what they offer. I love education; that’s my dream. I want to be the best in my field and this is a step toward doing that. I want to become a pediatric surgeon.”

LSMSA will give Escoto a chance to study more subjects than a typical high school, she said.

“This means everything to me,” she said. “I’m so happy I can go to a school where I can learn to my full potential. The workload will be tougher. I’ll have to work harder and that will probably be a struggle, but I’m happy about that.”

Escoto’s mom shed almost as many tears as her daughter as she watched her progeny peruse the admittance packet.

“She makes me very proud,” Parke said. “She deserves this; she’s worked very hard for this. She studies a lot. If she doesn’t know something, she’ll do whatever she has to do to get the answer.”

Parke said her daughter wants to be be the best of everything, and has worked toward the possibility of attending LSMA for a long time.

“She’s been talking to me about this since eighth grade,” Parke said. “I’m glad she made it.”

Parke said it was hard for her to realize that someone who enjoys school so much is her daughter.

“I’m amazed this (Escoto) came out of me,” she said. “I was not like this in school. To watch her care about her future is amazing and a joy to have a child of mine this focused; this strong. I’m so proud.”

Early on, Parke said she issued a challenge to Escoto, the eldest of her three daughters.

“I’ve always told her that being the oldest child she would create the footsteps that her younger sisters will walk in,” she said. She has taken that seriously and done her best to be a great example for them.”

As he waited for his stepdaughter to arrive at from school, Escoto’s dad, Staff Sgt. Matthew Parke, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said he’s amazed at how she has planned her life.

“For a 16-year-old, she’s got her life all planned out, all her education goals, what she wants to do,” he said. “This is a huge stepping stone for her; we’re really proud of her. When that van pulls up, get a box of tissues ready — she might actually faint.”

As the initial excitement ebbed, Escoto took a moment to reflect on her acceptance to LSMSA. She was quick to give credit to her parents for their help in making this step of her dream come true.

“Not a lot of people have wonderful parents like I do,” she said, once again the tears filling her eyes. “They have supported me in everything I do and did everything in their power to make this happen. They mean the world to me.”

Scott Horton, executive director of LSMSA, said it’s a thrill for him to make a presentation to the first student accepted each year.

“This is my second year (as executive director) so I’ve been through this twice now,” he said. “To watch the faces when you drive up with an admissions letter, and to see the work they put into the application come full circle, she’s (Escoto) going to fit so well into the school and she’s going to thrive.”

Horton said he enjoys watching the parents as much as the students.

“I think the best part of this is watching the moms and dads, and this mom and dad especially, because I saw they are just as committed to her education as she is,” he said. “This is a special day for that first student admit each year. This will be something they remember for the rest of their lives.”

Horton also said he is proud to be part of a school that supports the military.

“Today is a tribute to the respect that LSMA has for the military,” he said. “It’s really a neat deal to give a military dependent that chance, whether they are from Louisiana or not.”

As she flipped through the admittance packet, Escoto was unable to control the tears and smiles.

“I know I’ll look back on this day as one of the best days of my life, and the start of a new adventure that will help me reach all of my goals,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed.”