Horizon student earns essay scholarship for living in Disney’s backyard

A local Realtor sponsored the essay contest for high school seniors.

Markus Barras accepted a $1,000 check from essay sponsor Amy Kidwell, left, of Heart and Home Orlando. With them is Marcal Joyner, Markus’ favorite teacher, who received a $100 gift certificate.
Markus Barras accepted a $1,000 check from essay sponsor Amy Kidwell, left, of Heart and Home Orlando. With them is Marcal Joyner, Markus’ favorite teacher, who received a $100 gift certificate.
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When a local Realtor created an essay contest for students asking them to share why they love living in “Disney’s backyard,” the writing immediately commenced for Markus Barras. The Horizon High School senior — who lives 10 minutes from Walt Disney World — ultimately was the winner of a $1,000 scholarship.

Barras intends to use the money to purchase college books. Acceptance letters already have come in from the University of Tampa, the University of South Florida and Stetson University. Barras hopes to study psychology.

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Amy Kidwell, of Heart and Home Orlando, sponsored the essay contest at Horizon High and said she was pleased to receive about a dozen entries. Barras was deemed the scholarship winner; five finalists received $50 gift cards, and Barras’ favorite teacher, Marcal Joyner, was given a $100 gift card as well.

“I was completely surprised,” Barras said of winning the contest. “I knew I was a finalist, and I always try to keep a positive attitude, but I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I told myself if it happens great; if not, congrats to whomever wins. Disney has always been my family’s happy place.”

Kidwell lives and works in the Horizon West area and said the real-estate company puts an emphasis on community and school support.

“We really want to give back to the community that supports us so generously,” she said. “When Horizon High opened down the street from us … someone in the neighborhood said, ‘My child’s in the band, and we don’t have funds to get the concession stand started.’ We got the band set up. I just felt like it was important.”

When the volleyball and soccer teams had big wins, Heart and Home provided T-shirts for the players. When the culinary arts teacher needed a mop and bucket, Heart and Home delivered. The company also buys the back cover of the HHS theater program’s performance playbills.

“I used to tell people, ‘I live in Disney’s back yard,’” she said. “That’s really become a way that we unintentionally — and now intentionally — explain where we live. This is such a great place and a unique spot.”

Kidwell advertised the contest through a marketing postcard mailed to households in the Horizon High attendance zone.

“The interesting thing was that the overwhelming common theme of the essays is how they all came here … they’re all transplants, she said. “They’re from other places around the country and other (places). What an eclectic group of a community we have and how accepting and how they feel they are home — and the magic of being in Disney’s backyard. And that magic means different things to different students. They all feel accepted in the magic of Disney’s backyard.”

Once Markus’ essay was selected, Kidwell scheduled the presentation, which took place Tuesday, Feb. 6, at the school.

“It was just a fun way to give back to the community,” Kidwell said.

Kidwell said the essay contest will be an annual event.

“(It’s) those small sprinklings of making a difference,” Kidwell said. “It makes you feel like what you do matters.”


Hello, my name is Markus Barras, and I would love to share with you how much I love where I live. This is largely because I live in Disney World’s backyard.

Something I should mention is that I wasn’t born in Florida. I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. When I was 6 years old, my parents and I moved to Illinois to be closer to family, and we lived there for about five years — until the summer before my seventh-grade year, when we moved to Florida.

I was afraid at first of moving to another state, especially one that was so far away from my previous home. I knew I was going to miss my friends, teachers and teammates from the sports I was in — soccer and martial arts. But then my mother told me that where we were going to move was right next to Disney World, 10 minutes behind Magic Kingdom, to be exact.

When I first heard this news, suddenly everything changed. All my fears went right out the window, and it felt like a dream come true! It was like a gift to me as a child. The thought of where I was moving to gave me high hopes. How can living right by Disney World be a bad thing?

Markus Barras and parents Michele and Michael Barras make frequent trips to Walt Disney World to play.

I started to get excited for the move, and I was looking forward to this fresh start of mine.

After my parents and I moved, we developed a much stronger bond with one another. Moving to Florida has given us that opportunity. One of the first things we did was buy Disney annual passes. Our first year here, we must have gone a minimum of three times a week.

Some of my best memories are of me spending time with my parents at the different Disney parks. We would laugh, enjoy the rides, meet characters, have lunch or dinner together; it was just a lot of fun. Never any worries or stress because how can anyone have a bad day at Disney? I don’t think it’s possible.

What makes it so nice to go to Disney World often is that not only does it let me experience having fun, but it also lets me decompress from stress. I usually (and still do) get overwhelmed by school because of assignments and studying. I have a documented learning disability, and I have a 504 plan to assist me with my needs. However, even with things like the extra time that I get for assignments or tests, school still makes me very anxious.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do just as good at something in class as everyone else. I don’t like to use my learning disability as an excuse, and I have always pushed myself to not use the additional resources I am given if possible. I don’t want to spend my days obsessing over school. Yet, that is hard because I am constantly thinking about homework or studying for tests.

I guess, in a way, it paid off as I am in honors, AP and AICE classes and my GPA is a 3.9 unweighted.

Some might say that going to Disney can be a distraction from school, but I personally found it to be a much-needed break. Going to a Disney theme park is like a reward for my hard effort at school.

I am very thankful my family was able to move here and for the opportunity to spend all the time we have together at Disney. We are still passholders today and will probably always be, as it is our family’s happy place. I’ve always enjoyed going there, even as a senior now. I know … a lot of people are not able to go to Disney World, or are only lucky enough to go one time, and I honestly could not tell you how many times I have gone — it must be in the hundreds now.

I know how truly fortunate I have been to be able to live in Disney’s backyard.



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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