Welcome to the Step Up For Students blog, “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship.” We’re excited to have you join us as we debut a new forum for our parents, teachers, students and advocates to connect with one another and share their personal experiences with the (income-based) Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs.
We hope to be informative, sharing news about Step Up For Students, our scholarship application periods, participating schools and services, among other topics. We also aim to intrigue you with profiles about our scholarship recipients and their families, our partner schools, our program donors and partners.
In addition, we’d like to help answer your questions and provide a network of support for you as you navigate your child’s educational path. Which private schools accept the scholarships in your community? What combinations of therapies have helped your child with special needs? Is there a homeschool curriculum that really brings results? In the months ahead, we will feature guest bloggers, including parents and educators. We’ll also publish various series, such as a behind- the-scenes look at all things Step Up. We invite you, our readers, to become active participants.
We look forward to growing our blog, and taking this adventure with you. Thank you for reading.
that I will be able to go to one of the top universities, not only in the
nation but in the entire world and be supported all the way through financially,
means the world to me,” Trace, 18, said. “It’s amazing.”
That same day, fellow senior Miguel Coste Jr., received a similar email from QuestBridge. He had been accepted to the University of Notre Dame.
Trace each scored high enough as eighth graders on Jesuit’s entrance exam to
qualify for the school’s financial assistance package, which covered roughly
half of the tuition. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarships covered the rest.
thankful for Step Up and the opportunity they gave him,” said Lisa Nuss,
Trace’s mother. “We wanted him to have every opportunity available to him, and
we didn’t want any of our circumstances to get in his way.”
California, QuestBridge is a nonprofit organization that runs the QuestBridge
Scholarship. It was designed to help head-of-the-class students from low-income
backgrounds attend some of the country’s best colleges and universities.
the scholarship means he can major in history and political science at an Ivy
League school while setting the foundation for a career as a civil rights
attorney. His goal is to protect the rights of those with mental and physical
disabilities to ensure they are not abused, a pursuit forged during his years
of working with Special Olympic athletes.
it means he will be first in his family to attend college as he begins his
journey toward a career as a doctor who brings quality healthcare to
lower-income families and neighborhoods. That quest stems from his economic
background and the fact both of his parents suffer from debilitating health
Miguel’s mom, Nordis Del Toro, “is absolutely fabulous.”
16,000 high school seniors nationwide applied in 2018 for a QuestBridge
Scholarship. Only 1,044 were awarded.
Miguel join Tommy Pham, also a former Step Up recipient and 2018 graduate, as
Jesuit’s only QuestBridge scholars since the program began in 2004. Pham
recently completed his freshman year at Notre Dame.
Trace is the
only child of Lisa and Richard Nuss Jr. Richard suffers from Brown-Séquard syndrome, a
neurological condition caused by a lesion in the spinal cord, and is unable to
work. Whatever financial hardship that presented certainly didn’t hold Trace back
inside or outside the classroom.
He is one of 161 high school seniors nationwide to be named a Presidential Scholar, an honor that came with a trip in June to Washington D.C. and a meet-and-greet with President Donald Trump.
amazing to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication I’ve put into my
studies,” he said.
“Once I was
there, some of the athletes were like, ‘Oh Trace, can you come to our football
practice? Can you come to our volleyball practice? And I slowly and slowly got
more involved with all the different sports that Special Olympics offers and
got to see how life-changing these activities are for people,” he said.
awards $50,000 to a community hero every home game. Half goes to the student’s
education; the other half goes to a charity of his choice. Trace chose the
Special Olympics of Florida and Superstars of Hillsborough.
Lightning provide a suite for the Community Hero honoree. Trace filled it with
Special Olympic athletes.
He recently competed in his second Teen Masters, the top tournament for teenage bowlers.
Trace, who carries a 209 average and once bowled a 300 game as a freshman, coaches and supervises the Superstars Bowling League in Tampa for bowlers with physical and cognitive disabilities.
inherently good person who’s kind and compassionate,” Lisa Nuss said. “He’s
wanted to change the world for as long as I can remember.”
One of the more impactful moments of his high school career came last summer during a Jesuit-sponsored mission trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. There, Trace and several of his classmates encountered children living in extreme poverty.
was such hardship and difficulty that it’s something that I’ll never
experience,” Trace said. “It was kind of a life-changing moment to see how the
poverty in some places in the country and how much it needs to be changed and
When he returned home, Trace wrote a
note to his mom, thanking her for letting him attend the mission. Then he filled
a few boxes with toys and supplies and mailed them to the reservation.
thankful for the Step Up scholarship,” Trace said. “I feel that’s what drives
me to service, because someone is doing the service for me, so I want to give
back to the community, give back to other people. I want to pay it forward.”
to Notre Dame
Miguel will major in premed and minor
in poverty studies.
Why poverty studies?
helping people in that state of living,” he said.
Since his freshman year, Miguel has volunteered at Tampa Bay Harvest, an organization that collects and distributes food to the hungry and homeless in the bay area.
that helped him set his goal when he realized how many people in this world are
needy,” Nordis said.
Like Trace, Miguel has an unweighted 4.0 GPA and was a member of Jesuit’s Key Club. He scored a 1510 on the SAT, is an AP Scholar with Distinction and was a tri-valedictorian of his graduation class.
served as a peer minister and an alter server during his four years in high
Miguel won a district championship as a member of Jesuit’s wrestling team.
His parents, Miguel Coste Sr., and
Nordis, endured their own hardship when they emigrated from their native
countries – Miguel Sr. from the Dominican Republic when he was 30; Nordis from
Cuba when she was 8.
Miguel Sr. was born without the use of
his left arm. He managed to find work as a truck driver until he was injured 10
years ago and forced to retire. He does not speak English well, but managed to
volunteer his time at Jesuit as often as possible during the last four years.
Nordis worked at a printing company
before having to quit because of diabetes and arthritis.
The couple is also raising two
granddaughters because their mother is in prison.
Miguel works at a restaurant to help his parents pay some bills. He also volunteers this summer in the interventional radiology department at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.
Those who apply for a QuestBridge
Scholarship are required to write a series of essays – some general, others aimed
at a specific school.
One essay asked applicants to write
about what drives me, my parents and the sacrifices they made, and my siblings,
they didn’t meet their potential and how that motivated me,” Miguel said. “I
see everything kind of as a competition, because that’s what it is. You’re
competing when you go to school. You’re competing to get a better education to
be more successful. I used my socioeconomic status and everyone around me as a
competition. I didn’t deliberately think about it. It was a subconscious one.”
Nordis first heard her son talk of
being a doctor when he was a sophomore.
“Junior year, he was insisting he was going to be a doctor,”
he said. “I was so proud of him. Not many kids his age have their goals set up
on being a doctor.”
Miguel and Trace set themselves up for college during their time at Jesuit. Trace figured he was heading to the University of Florida.
“I had always been a Gator fan,” Trace said. “I always loved
the University of Florida. I never thought these schools outside of Florida
were a possibility.”
their junior year, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesuit’s director of college counseling,
told them both about QuestBridge.
As they moved through the application process, they were matched with some of the top colleges in the country. So, Miguel added Vanderbilt and Notre Dame to his list of colleges. Trace added Notre Dame and Princeton.
Now, Miguel is headed Notre Dame.
“I was fortunate
enough to be placed in the right situation to succeed,” Miguel said, “and
(QuestBridge) recognize that.”
And Trace is headed to Princeton.
League wasn’t even … that’s like a dream,” Trace said. “I didn’t think that was
even possible. It’s been some road.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesuit High School
in 1899, Jesuit High has 800 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12. Jesuit
provides a college prep curriculum to prepare students for higher education.
Tuition is $16,765 plus fees. Need-based financial aid and merit scholarships
are available to those who qualify.
If this graphic above caught your attention, read on. As a parent of a now-grown son who is a successful attorney, I can tell you that years ago I was that parent trying to figure how to get my very athletic, very intelligent son to enjoy – or at least partake in – reading that was not a “school assignment.” I was determined to have him love reading even if it was the last thing he wanted to do!!! For him, it wasn’t that he couldn’t read, rather, it was he simply didn’t see the need to read. So I set out to create reasons why a 9-year-old would actually want to pick up some form of text (notice I didn’t say a book) and read. Now 20 years later, I’m happy to report that although it took some time my plan worked!!
So here’s my summer formula for reading with reluctant readers!! READ, READ, READ and then read some more!
First, figure out what makes your child click. Is it water sports? Climbing trees? Creepy bugs? Or things that bump in the night? Summer can be a busy time for families to fit reading into their daily routine, but like the Nike ad says, “Just Do It!” Make it a habit that is embraced by your whole family.
That’s right, mom, dad, auntie and grandpa need to be seen reading and TALKING about what they read! A habit only takes 21 days to establish and after that it is very hard to break.
(Do you know any children who struggle to read? Step Up For Students offers the Reading Scholarship Accounts for parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades three through five who are having trouble reading. Click here to learn more.)
I also know the importance of walking the talk and decided that whatever I would entice my son to read, I’d also read. This opened up great avenues for conversation and eventually even spirited debates about the virtues of a character in a book or predicting just how the story would end. Conversations about what we were reading often branched off into other topics and created common grounds for reflections and clarifying our beliefs and value.
Throughout the summer months, I stayed focused on my son’s passions and one morning next to his cereal bowl, I left a magazine article that featured a 10-year-old who ran a triathlon. To challenge my very competitive son I simply said, “Wow, did you see that a 10-year-old finished a triathlon, I wonder if you could too?” With that single statement he was hooked and off he went to devour the story and soon returned to share his plan for competing in a local race. I did a happy dance, as not only was he planning to compete in a triathlon, he actually asked if I had anything else he could read about world-class runners!
Then we set a target of books to read in a month. I should have known my son was predestined to be an attorney when he wanted to negotiate the numbers of pages of text versus pictures in the book that would constitute reaching his goal. Speaking of pictures, don’t ignore the strategically placed illustrations. Those pictures are great for connecting the story to real-life experiences: predicting what happens next and why, thinking about the author’s purpose for writing the book, and sharing the “movie in the reader’s mind” that the story was conjuring. For our plan, we finally agreed on 10 books or news articles (not too long!) for each month.
Next, pick “Just Right Books” with your reader As we went off to search for the books that he wouldn’t be able to put down, I had to make sure he had the “Just Right Book” in his hands— not too easy, but not too hard! A super easy way to make sure your child is selecting a book that they won’t labor over and forget why they are reading or speed through with little thought to the meaning is to use the 5 Finger Rule to pick a “Just Right Book,” Kids learn this quickly and for the most part it is a fail-safe quickie to help ensure you have “just right books” for your children.
Now Read every day! So armed with a backpack of those “Just Right Books,” the next step in the plan was to read every day. It doesn’t matter what it is just read something! Bear in mind this did not mean that I set the kitchen timer and had my son read until it buzzed. No way!! Do we, as impassioned readers, read that way? I tried to make it authentic, real. Some days I even read him stories from the newspaper. You guessed it, usually from the sports section, of course, or he’d read the classified ads, looking for a cheap bike, or we’d read together a chapter of one of his “Just Right Books” or while we were in the grocery store I’d give him a detailed list (ex. 2 ½ pounds of jumbo tiger shrimp) that he was responsible for finding. And I made sure he saw me reading. I wanted him to see that I set time aside in our hectic day to slow down and read. It’s that important.
Our Summer Reading Plan became a tradition in our family. Even to the extent of taking a special book or two on vacations to the beach or mountains. Now fast forward to this summer when my now 30-year old very professional, but still extremely sports-minded attorney son stopped by the house this spring. He was dropping off a Mothers Day gift: “The Autobiography of Mark Twain.” It was a great gift and great book, but the greatest gift was his words that accompanied the book, “Hey Mom I’m reading this too. Get started so we can talk about this guys’s crazy life!”
My Summer Reading Plan had worked!!!
Carol Macedonia is the vice president and founder of Step Up’s Office of Student Learning department. She came to us eight years ago after a 31-year career in the Pinellas County School District, where she rose to an assistant superintendent of schools.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Florida Parent Network is now Florida Voices For Choices, a change that reflects the many supporters — beyond parents — for the education choice movement.
“While parents and their children are at the core of what we do, our advocates include grandparents, foster parents, educators, alumni, faith leaders and more,” said Catherine Durkin Robinson, executive director of Florida Voices For Choices. “It was time we make our name more encompassing of all of our supporters.”
But the name is all that’s changed.
“New name. Same mission,” Robinson said.
Florida Voices For Choices, the advocacy arm of Step Up For Students, organizes and mobilizes its members. Step Up For Students, a Florida-based nonprofit scholarship funding organization and the largest of its kind in the nation, served more than 110,000 children in Florida for the 2018-19 school year through four scholarship programs.
With Robinson and her team at the helm in Florida, they are among the hundreds of thousands of advocates fighting for children to be educated based on how they learn, rather than where they live.
“Instead of forming different networks, we’re more powerful together. We’re proud of this name change to Florida Voices For Choices,” Robinson said. “We still organize advocates for scholarship programs, charter schools, magnets, virtual schools, homeschools and vouchers. “
The group, which also partners with the Florida Charter School Alliance, works with supporters year-round to mobilize advocates in support of legislation that will get more children off waiting lists and into great schools. They also register voters and keep advocates aware of lawmakers who support, and oppose, their rights to choose the best school or learning environment for their kids. One of its most successful events was back in January 2016, when it organized more than 10,000 Florida Tax Credit Scholarship supporters from throughout Florida to march in Tallahassee when a lawsuit threatened to close down the program.
“That was an amazing day,” Robinson recalled. “But every day brings a new challenge and we need these programs for schoolchildren to continue to gain strength. We still fight for educational equity for all.”
Follow Florida Voices For Choices on social media and text FVFC to 52886 for timely updates.
“She’s so creative,” said Emily
Ashworth, whose son Wesley is on the high-functioning end of the autism
spectrum and attends Miami Shores Presbyterian on a Gardiner Scholarship,
administered by Step Up.
So is Covert, who attended The Benjamin School in Palm Beach and is now a Realtor living with her family in Charleston, S.C.
The two became friends in 2005 during move-in day of their freshman year at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
They began writing books together during
their junior year and have written close to 15. All are children’s books with a
“The Skunk Who Lost His Stink” is the
first to be self-published.
The idea, Sergiacomi said, came from
“It was a few years ago, and my dad
said, ‘Baby skunks don’t spray.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that would be a cool title,
‘The Skunk Who Lost His Stink,’ and it went from there,” Sergiacomi said.
It took them an hour to write the
“We cracked up the whole time,”
That’s because they mix humor with a
storyline of collaboration.
“Having friends who help. Having
friends by your side,” Sergiacomi said.
Ivanna the Iguana, Aramis Dillo the armadillo,
and Quill the porcupine join Señor Olor as he journeys to meet the wise grey
They believe wise grey wolf will help
the sheriff find his stink.
Spoiler alert: She does.
She suddenly howls and scares the,
um, stink out of the sheriff.
That part causes quite the stir when
Sergiacomi and Covert read their book to children at schools and libraries.
“We do get a lot of giggles,” Covert
The children howl along with the wise
grey wolf, and Sergiacomi, dressed in a skunk costume she bought on Amazon,
pretends to find her stink.
“This is why (Sergiacomi is) so great,”
Ashworth said. “She really gets into the minds of these kids and figures them
out. It’s the perfect lower-elementary school level humor, and they think it’s
But there is more to “The Skunk Who
Lost His Stink” than some potty humor.
Sergiacomi wants to learn Spanish, so
she and Covert sprinkled Spanish words throughout the book.
Señor Olor translates to Mr. Stink.
The Bandido (bandit) robs La Basura
(the trash), which is the local grocery store. The characters live in El Pueblo
de Animales (The Village of the Animals).
To give their young female readers a
strong female character, the coauthors made the wise grey wolf a female.
There is also a social emotional learning (SEL) theme to the book. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines social emotional learning as the process where students learn how to manage and understand emotions, act responsibly, maintain positive relationships, achieve goals and display empathy.
Patricia Handly, the former
curriculum director at Miami
Shores Presbyterian, taught Sergiacomi how to teach social emotional learning.
“It’s really the key,” Sergiacomi said. “It’s
a big part of my motivation for teaching. I feel very passionate about SEL, and
I incorporate it in my daily lessons. I am the teacher I am today because of
While it took Sergiacomi and Covert
an hour to write the story, it took them nearly four years to get it published.
The biggest piece was finding an illustrator. They used Richard Kenyon, Sergiacomi’s
friend from elementary school.
The two authors are already working
on a sequel with an anti-violence theme.
“We’ll find out the raccoon is not so
bad at all,” Sergiacomi said. “He’s stealing food to feed his cousins. Everyone
has a little good in them. He’s trying to help his friends.”
There is talk of a prequel, a story
of how Señor Olor became sheriff. If you pay close attention to the
illustrations on the first page of the text, you’ll notice photos hanging on
the wall of Señor Olor’s home of the sheriffs in his family. One is a female.
“These are just ideas floating
around,” Sergiacomi said.
The coauthors want to continue this
series before moving on to some of their other unpublished works.
“It’s a start,” Sergiacomi said. “The
goal is to have a whole bunch of these books with social emotional learning
Roger Mooney, marketing
communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Zanaya Chase wants to be a fashion designer. Or a scientist.
Or, a fashion designer and scientist.
“I want to make products that can
better this world,” she said.
For as long as she can remember,
Zanaya wanted to design outfits that are mall-hip or red carpet-chic. Lately,
she’s thought of another avenue for her creativity: spacesuits. Functional and stylish.
“If a lady wants to go into space and she wants to look good, I got something for her,” said Zanaya, 12, a sixth-grader at the Dixon School of Arts & Sciences in Pensacola.
“Why not?” asked her mother, Zoila
Davis, who is thrilled to hear her daughter talk confidently about her future.
“I always tell her, ‘You do what
makes you happy. Do what you like and what interests you and not somebody
else,’” Davis said. “Just do something productive. That’s all I ask.”
Getting Zanaya to this point was not
easy. It took three schools, one hit motion picture, her inclusion in a school
science project and a chance encounter with an African-American female
scientist at NASA.
“It’s turned out wonderful, just as
we hoped it would,” said Margo Long, Zanaya’s aunt and the parent liaison at
the Dixon School.
It was former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size.
Dixon School principal Donna Curry embraces that concept.
Curry believes there is a switch
inside each student that once flipped, unleashes unlimited potential.
She sees the Dixon School as a launching pad of possibilities for her students, nearly all of whom come from lower-income households and attend the K-8 private school with the help of a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students.
“Many of our children have lost hope (because of their economic situation),” Curry said. “They don’t see themselves going anywhere or doing anything other than what they see (on the streets). So to turn that light on and for them to say, ‘I want to be an engineer,’ or ‘I want to be a scientist,’ or ‘I want to be a fashion designer,’ or ‘I want to be a chef,’ and know that the light is on, we found the switch.”
For Zanaya, who has a Florida Tax
Credit Scholarship, flipping that switch came in steps, the first of which was
when Davis enrolled her daughter in the Dixon School.
Finding the switch
Zanaya attended her neighborhood school for two years and passed her classes, but said she didn’t feel as if she was learning anything. She attended a private school in third grade but didn’t think it was a good fit.
Life away from school during that
time wasn’t easy. Her parents had starts and stops trying to make it as a
family, and Zanaya spent time with her father in Miami and her mother in
Long noticed her niece never seemed happy.
“You could tell she had a lot of
heaviness on her,” Long said. “She was in a dark place.”
Zanaya, who lives with her mom just north of Pensacola, was going into the fourth grade when her aunt joined the Dixon staff. Zanaya, enticed by the school that emphasis art and science and is heavy on project-based learning, quickly followed.
The art side of Dixon appealed to
Zanaya. Davis said her daughter would spend hours cutting construction paper and,
using her imagination, made things she wanted, like a laptop or a cell phone.
“She is very, very creative,” Davis
Step Two occurred when Long took Zanaya to see the movie, “Hidden Figures,” a film about a trio of African-American female mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA and played a pivotal role during the early 1960s when John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.
“That actually inspired me,”
Step Three happened in 2017 when Curry
allowed Zanaya to join Jayla Brown and Ty’Shawn Jenkins, Dixon students who are
a grade ahead of Zanaya, in a science project that required them to test water
samples at Carpenter Creek, measure the width and depth of the creek and
interview fisherman to determine which fish swim there.
Their findings earned them the status of “citizen scientist” and landed them a spot on the exhibition floor at the American Geophysical Union, held that December in New Orleans.
According to the organization’s website, the conference is “the largest worldwide conference in the geophysical sciences, attracting more than 22,000 Earth and space scientists, educators, students, and other leaders.”
For Zanaya, the switch was fully flipped at the convention when she met a NASA scientist.
“When I saw her, I said, ‘Oh my
gosh. She’s a lady, and she’s African-American,’” Zanaya said. “I do want to
learn about science and outer space. I always wonder if there is more than this
for the future
Working alongside Jayla and
Ty’Shawn in the mud at the creek served as motivation for Zanaya.
Phase II of their Carpenter Creek project required them to identify the insects that are part of the food chain. Once again, they were invited to the American Geophysical Union conference, held December 2018 in Washington D.C.
The trio have begun work on Phase III, which requires them to develop their own questions about life at the creek and research the answers. A trip to the America Geophysical Union conference this December in San Francisco rides on this phase.
Both Ty’Shawn and Jayla, who attend Dixon on Florida Tax Credit scholarships, are excellent students, and both are excited about their future.
Everyone who knows Jayla, 12,
tells her she would be a perfect fit as a criminal profiler at the CIA. She
agrees. She enjoys watching crime shows, and she describes herself as the quiet
observer in class.
“I like to get in people’s head
and figure out why they do the things they do,” she said.
So, a future with the CIA?
“One day,” she said.
For Ty’Shawn, also 12, it might be a life studying living things.
“I really want to start learning
what insects and other animals do to our world, our lives,” he said.
Long, who came to Dixon after a career in law enforcement that included stints as a police officer and a prison guard working death row, is excited to work with students who have high expectations for their futures.
“It is amazing that for all of
the negative that is on TV that these children still have the hope and the
dream,” she said. “As far as they’re concerned, it is possible. No one has
taken that innocence away from them or dulled that possibility that it can
happen, so go for it.”A
Zanaya returns home from school
each afternoon eager to tell her mom about what she learned that day. Davis
said her daughter never talked like that before she began attending Dixon.
“Her mind has really opened,”
Davis said. “It’s been a complete turnaround. She’s very independent. I don’t
have to check on her with her schoolwork. She’s on top of her assignments. She
communicated with her teachers. She gets good grades.
“They really did find that
Roger Mooney, marketing
communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Dixon School of Arts
Founded in 2008, the private K-8
school offers a fine arts, science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The
school blends core academics with field trips and the arts. Tuition is $4,600
plus an additional $2,400 in registration, fees, books and supplied,
transportation and field trips. More than 90 percent of the students are on
Step Up scholarships.
The nonprofit’s Jacksonville office was ranked among the top places to work in that city by the Jacksonville Business Journal, placing third in the category for Large Companies (100-249 employees).
“It is such
an honor that our employees are being recognized for the work they do each day
to create an organizational culture that enables us to fulfill our mission to
the best of our abilities,” said Anne White, Step Up’s chief administrative
The Jacksonville Business Journal
partnered with Quantum Workplace, an employee engagement research firm, to
compile the rankings. Quantum Research surveys employees and analyzes the
results to determine employee satisfaction.
Employees are evaluated in the areas of team effectiveness, retention risk, alignment with goals,
trust with co-workers, individual contribution, manager effectiveness, trust in
senior leaders, feeling valued, work engagement and people practices.
Step Up’s Clearwater office was recently ranked eighth among large companies in the Tampa Bay area by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Nationally, Step Up was ranked 19th on Forbes’ list of America’s Top Charities 2018. It was also recognized in 2018 for its financial accountability and transparency from two nonprofit watchdog groups: Charity Navigator and GuideStar. Charity Navigator awarded Step Up a four-star rating for the seventh consecutive year, a credit that only 4 percent of charities have earned by the nation’s top charity evaluator. Step Up has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency with GuideStar, a public database that evaluates the mission and effectiveness of nonprofits.
was a summer spent reflecting on what went wrong during that senior year, and
why he was required to repeat it.
“Just a lack of motivation on my part,” said Josh, 17.
This lack of
motivation was a never-ending source of frustration for Josh’s mother, Kadirah
Abdel, his guidance counselor, Norman Levitan, and American Prep principal,
sensed a serious student inside Josh yearning for an opportunity to be set
free. He could be engaging with his teachers, capable of leading the class in a
deep discussion on the topic for that day. He could also be disruptive and
unmotivated, unwilling to complete his assignments on time.
she would have allowed Josh to participate last May in the graduation ceremony
and make up the work during summer school, but he failed too many classes to
make that possible. She hoped having Josh repeat his senior year would be a
“I wanted to
give him another chance,” Matos said. “I believed it was a maturity issue and
eventually he would understand that this was his last chance.”
the way I was doing things over the summer,” Josh said. “I thought, ‘Man, I got
really step up, because I’m repeating.’ It was sort of the cataclysmic moment
for me. I knew I had to do something to improve my study ethic.”
taught himself to speak Latin by using the Duolingo app proved what Levitan
always believed about Josh.
bright,” Levitan said.
“A different kid”
fit in at his neighborhood schools.
“He was very
to himself, very shy,” Abdel said. “The other kids were into stuff he wasn’t
The other kids were into pop culture. Josh was into Julius Cesar.
kids read Facebook posts. Josh read the dictionary.
bullied and picked on,” Abdel said. “That was my main concern. That’s when I
knew I had to take action here, do something. I heard about alternative
schools. I did my research, looked up different kinds of schools. There are
alternative schools for kids who have had issues in public schools, because
they didn’t fit in.”
said, administrators at Josh’s neighborhood school wanted to place him in
classes for emotionally challenged students.
have a disability,” Abdel said. “They’re quick to label kids in public school.
They couldn’t put him in special ed, so he was put in this class called ‘EH,’
emotionally handicapped children, basically kids who acted up.”
her son did act up in class, and it was because he was bored.
He moved to
AEF (Alternative Education Foundation) School, a nonprofit private school in
Fort Lauderdale, the following year and stayed through his sophomore year in
“Once he got
to private school, he did a lot better,” Abdel said.
were still issues.
behave so well at (AEF),” Josh said. “I didn’t get along with the students and
finally turned to American Prep, a private school with 150 students with no
more than 12 to a class. Matos said her school is designed for students who
don’t fit in at neighborhood schools. Kids, she said, who “fall through the
different kid,” Matos said. “He likes history. He likes to read, and that is
not very common.”
his classes as a junior. Senior year was a struggle with most of the struggles
“Just a lack
of motivation on my part,” Josh said.
to learn … just on his terms.
reading and studying on his own,” Abdel said. “Not necessarily being told, ‘OK,
you have to study for his test.’ He enjoys studying, but when he wants.”
man,” Josh said. “All the conquests. His abilities as a leader was unrivaled.”
He wants to
be a linguist. He would like to have a career that allows him to write and
speak Latin and Italian.
“I’d like to write books about this stuff,” he said. “Phonology. Nerdy things.”
Josh had to graduate high school.
The wake-up call
At one point
last year, Matos said she thought her school wasn’t the right fit for Josh. But
where would he go? What school would make room for a senior who couldn’t
believes her role as an educator is to keep her students in school. Plus, she
knew Josh could complete the work. He just needed motivation. Because he was still
eligible to receive a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Matos and Abdel felt it
best for Josh to repeat his senior year.
“I think it
was the kick he needed, the wake-up call,” Abdel said. “When he saw his friends
graduate but he didn’t, that’s when he stepped up his game.”
Josh’s grades this year were the highest they’ve been during his high school career.
been studying more, focusing on studying, reviewing,” he said. “I wasn’t
studying last year, and that’s why I was failing tests.”
friends made plans for their freshman years at college, Josh wrapped his mind
around another senior year of high school. He didn’t have a job, so he had
plenty of time on his hands.
What to do?
for a copy of Wheelock’s Latin, which
he received a few years ago, and started teaching himself Latin.
“One day I
was looking at it, staring at it, and I thought, ‘I’ve had this for so long I
should just learn it already,’” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything during the
summer. I was using the internet and stuff. I said let me do something
productive. I just opened up the book.”
productivity not only carried into the classroom this year, but to other parts
of the school.
time this past year mentoring younger students at American Prep, sharing his
experience as a cautionary tale.
he received the Turnaround Student Award during Step Up’s annual Rising Stars
Award event. He was nominated by Matos.
proud of him,” she said.
month, he graduated.
Josh plans to attend Broward College this fall. He is formulating plans for his future. He wants work with words, foreign words. He wants to visit Italy and Greece. Walk where Julius Cesar walked.
He wants to
converse with the locals in their native tongue. He can get by with his Latin
and Italian and Spanish.
He doesn’t speak Greek.
said. “Not yet.”
The K-12 private school has 150 students. More than half are on scholarships from Step Up For Students with the majority on the Gardiner Scholarship. Tuition ranges from $10,500 to $16,000 based on the student’s needs. The school has a comprehensive Exceptional Student Education program focused on the individual needs of each student. It also offers dual enrollment, summer classes, summer camps, athletics and extracurricular activities.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
Southern Glazer’s announced the incredible pledge during a celebration honoring the company’s 2018-19 contribution of $150 million, which funds 22,319 scholarships. The scholarships gives lower-income children the opportunity to attend the school that best meets their learning needs.
The celebration was held at Kingdom Academy in Miami where more than half of the students benefit from a Step Up scholarship. Representatives from Southern Glazer’s and Step Up For Students gathered with a few scholarship students to hear how the program helped them move toward their goals for the future.
Since 2010, Southern Glazer’s has generously funded 101,508 scholarships through contributions totaling $615 million to Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that helps manage the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations.
“At Southern Glazer’s we believe it’s not just
about serving world-class wine and spirits; it’s about serving people, said
Wayne E. Chaplin, CEO, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. “We are proud to partner
with Step Up For Students and provide scholarships to thousands of Florida schoolchildren,
so they have access to the educational opportunities they deserve.”
Step Up helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program,
allowing recipients to choose between a scholarship that helps with private
school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to
out-of-county public schools.
“Southern Glazer’s extraordinary commitment to Florida’s
disadvantaged school children through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
program is producing exceptional results,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step
Up For Students. “Recently, the Urban Institute evaluated graduates of our
program and found students who use the scholarship for at least four years are
99% more likely to attend a four-year college and up to 45% more likely to earn
a bachelor’s degree. Southern Glazer’s is a critical part of this success and
we are grateful for their immense generosity to the students in our community.”
For the 2018-19 school year,
Step Up is serving more than 98,500 students throughout Florida with tuition
scholarships valued at up to $6,519 per student for kindergarten through fifth
grade, $6,815 for sixth through eighth grade, and $7,111 for ninth through 12th grade.
More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program
Tampa middle school students from Tampa Bay Christian Academy are well on their way to be the next generation of environmental leaders as they creatively displayed the importance of recycling in a recent art contest.
In honor of Earth Day, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students participated in a Recycling and Science Poster Contest organized by Covanta, operator of eight Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities in Florida and Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that administers scholarships for Florida schoolchildren.
The contest asked students to visualize their commitment to
recycling and science by depicting a theme, such as Energy-from-Waste,
composting, recycling, electronic recycling and more. For its participation,
the school received a $500 gift card to Staples to be used for school supplies.
Winners were honored for their outstanding design at a
ceremony held on Earth Day.
Through Step Up For Students, Covanta has funded more than 140 scholarships for deserving Florida schoolchildren since 2016. The funds are donated through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which serves lower-income children in Florida and allows them to attend the school of their choice.
“We are proud of the impact we’ve had on Florida
schoolchildren through our contributions to the Step Up For Students
Scholarship Program and were thrilled to see the passion for the environment
that each student displayed in their posters,” said Tom Murphy, client services
manager for Covanta. “It’s fun activities like this one that teach kids the
importance of reduce, reuse and recycle. This also includes educating students
about the fourth R, recovery, which ensures that we recover energy from waste
that cannot otherwise be recycled. We
thank all of the students who submitted posters and encourage them to bring
that same zeal and creativity to make a positive impact in their school and
“Because of companies like Covanta, Florida’s
lower-income students are provided the
educational options they need to succeed,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step
Up For Students. “We are grateful for their partnership, generosity and
commitment to helping students in their community.”
“We are proud of the impact we’ve had on Florida schoolchildren through our contributions to the Step Up For Students Scholarship program and were thrilled to see the passion for the environment that each student displayed in their posters,” Murphy said. “It’s fun activities like this one that teach kids the importance of reduce, reuse and recycle. This also includes educating students about the fourth R, recovery, which ensures that we recover energy from waste that cannot otherwise be recycled. We thank all of the students who submitted posters and encourage them to bring that same zeal and creativity to future opportunities to make a positive impact in their school and community.”
Covanta’s EfW operations provide sustainable waste management to Florida that generates enough renewable energy to power more than 300,000 area homes and businesses.
LAKE CITY, Fla. – Sitting in the principal’s office of her twin sons’ school, Kim Glover pushed aside a couple of strands of wavy, auburn hair and took a breath to compose herself as she recounted the boys’ stunning transformation.
“I’ll try not to cry,” she said with her mellifluous Southern drawl.
After the family endured a drawn-out, painful divorce, Torey and Trinidy went from failing classroom distractions to model students, from being retained in seventh grade to posting high GPAs.
“You can see how much this environment makes a difference,” Kim said with a sweep of her arm as if to highlight the abundance of open, green space, and the peaceful sounds of farm animals and children that waft through the 20-acre campus.
“It’s smaller classrooms. It’s teachers giving more one on one. They give you their phone numbers. It’s a family environment.”
Kim heard about the scholarship from a staffer at the neighborhood elementary school, where her oldest son, Trey, had been held back in first grade and was struggling with dyslexia. He got on track at LCCA. The twins followed after trying the neighborhood school for one week and not liking it.
Torey and Trinidy are fraternal twins, but hard to tell apart. They have the same angular faces with side-swept, light brown hair that falls in their eyes. They prefer to wear muted colors. They’re best friends who idolize their older brother, love baseball and being outdoors. Kim sometimes thinks they’re telepathic.
Seeing their parents’ marriage fall apart and being caught literally in the middle of mental and physical abuse took an awful toll.
“It got very bad,” Kim said. “When we split, it got violent. I went into a shelter for three months with all three boys. It took four years to get a divorce.”
The twins shut down at school. They were chronically tardy, disregarded classwork and talked incessantly.
“We were focused on socializing, mainly hanging out with friends, becoming teenagers,” Trinidy said. “Our priorities were screwed up.”
Torey and Trinidy had been behind after arriving at LCCA in second grade unable to read. It helped that principal Tana Norris and pastor/administrator Pete Beaulieu had known the family since the boys were little.
“We could have pushed them forward and hoped they would catch on at some point,” said Beaulieu, who had been the children’s pastor. “Holding somebody back is never an easy decision. But they were going through stress at home, and they were in the middle of searching for themselves.”
Too many D’s and F’s in seventh grade gave Torey and Trinidy no choice but to repeat. Friends asked what happened but were supportive. Teachers rallied. Everyone lifted them up with care, sensitivity, and good advice.
The twins took it to heart.
“I just got tired of failing,” Torey said.
Their teacher told Kim how Torey decided he wanted to get good grades because he saw how hard his mom worked, and he wanted to take care of her.
“That was heartbreaking in a good way,” she said.
The changes came suddenly. Kim remembers coming home one evening to Torey and Trinidy doing homework. She felt their foreheads.
Are you my child?
What’s going on?
“That light just clicked on,” Norris said.
Since eighth grade, C’s are rare. Kim has stopped worrying and no longer has to nag about school.
“They tell me what’s going on,” she said. “I hear them talking about school, classes, tests, and homework. It makes me proud.”
Torey and Trinidy give much of the credit to LCCA and their teachers.
“We have really close interactions with the teachers,” Trinidy said. “It’s nice. In the small classrooms you get a bond with all of your friends and even with the teachers. It feels like they’re one of your best friends or even a family member.”
The twins are in 10th grade now. Torey has a 3.75 GPA; Trinidy has a 3.41. They talk about starting careers after high school, although their ideas seem to change daily. They have a firm belief in themselves that Norris says wasn’t there before.
“They’re totally different,” she said. “They have goals and they have things they want to do, and they know they can accomplish them because they’re successful.”
About Lake City Christian Academy
Norris opened the school on a 1-acre lot with a 3,000-square-foot building in 1994 with 25 students. In 2000, LCCA moved to a vast campus with a 21-stall horse barn, a lighted equestrian arena, farming areas, a dance studio, a chapel, softball and baseball fields, a covered basketball court, 15 classrooms and a cafeteria. LCCA employs an experiential learning approach with farming, equestrian and video game design programs. Every student has an individual learning plan. BJU Press and Abeka are among the classroom materials. The independent, non-denominational school is accredited by Florida League of Christian Schools (FLOCS), and has 242 K-12 students, including 132 on Step Up For Students Florida Tax Credit scholarships. The Stanford 10 test is administered in April and STAR reading and math assessments are given three times a year. K-12 tuition is $6,000. Jeff Barlis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.