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.
Fla. – One day last
summer during a school-sponsored trip to Spain and Italy, Jailine Garcia found
herself at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. She held three coins; the exact change
needed to make three wishes.
the famous tourist spot dictates your first wish must be to return to the
ancient city. Jailine complied.
wish was for good health.
As her final
coin splashed into the crystal-clear water, she made a wish that, to those who
know her, captured her spirit: Jailine Garcia wished to help others.
“I kind of
want to do something in our world,” Jailine said. “I could do something with my
family. That would be my start. Then do something bigger in the community.”
to be the first in her family to graduate from college and break the family cycle
of living paycheck-to-paycheck.
She wants to
help her parents care for Bella, her 11-year-old sister, who has developmental
delays from a rare genetic disorder.
She wants to
contribute to the family’s finances and help her parents enjoy their golden
years, maybe take them to the Trevi Fountain when that first wish comes true.
Most of all,
Jailine wants to reward her parents, Alexandria and Nicolas, for the sacrifices
they have made enabling her to have a brighter future than they realized.
be prouder of her,” Alexandria said. “She puts everything ahead of herself.”
pizza party last year for students hosted by Step Up For Students, Jailine was
asked to write a short essay on what it means to attend a private school on the
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
She began by
detailing a childhood that some would consider less-than-ideal. She did not see
her parents often because they were always working. The family bounced between
living with Jailine’s grandmother and an uncle because her parents couldn’t
afford a place of their own. She wrote of nights when there was barely enough
food to feed her and her younger brother, Nicolas, now 14 and a freshman at a
wrote this: “I never got many
opportunities to repay my parents for all their sacrifices.”
The Garcias went without a
lot of things so their children could have more.
“Jailine is so proud of
her parents,” said Patty Ceraola, who teaches Spanish at Clearwater Central
Catholic. “She just appreciates everything. Everything.”
didn’t have it easy when she was Jailine’s age. She moved from New Jersey to
Clearwater when she was 13. Her mom worked two jobs, so Alexandria had to care
for her younger siblings. She made sure they got home from school and did their
homework. Then she cooked dinner. By 8 p.m. she was exhausted.
college but couldn’t afford it.
Nicolas when she was 18. Jailine came along one year later. Two years after
that they had Nicolas.
Then came Bella, who has Potocki-Lupski syndrome, a condition that includes developmental delays and speech, eating and neurological issues. It also includes surgeries and hospital stays and doctor appointments. It is so time-consuming her father quit his job as a laminator to become Bella’s full-time caregiver.
a job with mandatory overtime, working 12 to 14 hours a day. They only time she
would see Jailine was in the morning before school.
“I know it
was hard for her,” Alexandria said.
instability in her life, you could understand if Jailine rebelled. Instead, she
threw herself into her schoolwork.
harder. She made sure she was making the grades,” Alexandria said. “She was
working hard to show me what I’m doing was worth it.”
you say thank you?
in New Jersey, Alexandria attended Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, a small Catholic
grammar school. She liked the small classes and the way the faculty and staff
looked after the students. She liked the structure that comes with a religious
Jailine moved on to Clearwater Central Catholic, where she thrived as a
freshman. She found the coursework motivating and the teachers eager to stay
after class or after school to provide extra help.
longed to attend a Pinellas County magnet school for its medical program, and
when a spot opened, she left Clearwater Central Catholic after her freshman
year, intent on getting a jump on her career in pediatrics.
proved to be a mistake.
She found the
teachers unavailable for extra help, the classes too big for her needs. In one,
Jailine sat at the teacher’s desk, because it was the only available seat.
“It was an awkward
transition,” Jailine said.
fell, and she worried if she was ruining her chance of attending a top
long, but I knew it just wasn’t right,” Jailine said. “I was not doing well
there at all. It was like, ‘OK, you might need to come back to CCC.’”
By the start
of the second semester, Jailine was back at Clearwater Central Catholic. Back
to its nurturing environment. Back to the honor rolls.
Jailine said, “it was probably the best thing I have ever done.”
sitting next to Jailine in a spacious conference room on the high school
campus, pumped her right fist, smiled and quietly said, “Yes.”
doesn’t want to hear that confirmation from their teenage daughter?
“It makes us
feel good, because we’re sending her on the right path,” Alexandria said. “And
when she graduates, hopefully that path will take her to a better tomorrow,
where she wants to go, where she favors to go.”
Jailine, who is in the International Baccalaureate program and is a member of the National and Spanish honor societies. She wants to attend the University of Florida, the next step toward realizing her dreams.
That school trip to Europe cost almost $6,000. Alexandria squeezed $157 out of her paycheck every two weeks, and Jailine took jobs babysitting children in the neighborhood. Her grandmother also contributed to the fund, so Jailine could visit places like the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain, the Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and that legendary fountain in Rome.
How do you
thank your parents for their sacrifices? In Jailine’s case, you work hard in
school, tutor classmates in Spanish, help take care of your younger brother and
sister – put everyone else first.
And, maybe someday, Jailine might reach into her pocket for a coin so her mother can make a wish at the Trevi Fountain.
that would be a dream come true, the both of us,” Alexandria said. “Knowing
that she went back, and I could be there with her, that would be awesome.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPCIC’s contribution funds 359 scholarships for deserving K-through-12 Florida schoolchildren for the 2019-20 school year. The scholarships give lower-income children the opportunity to attend a private or out-of-district school that best meets their learning needs.
“Universal is committed to giving back and empowering the
communities that it serves to accelerate community opportunities and build the
foundation for the next generation of business leaders,” said Steve Donaghy, chief
executive officer for Universal.
UPCIC celebrated this incredible donation at Saint Helen Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 75% of the students use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students. Dan Marino, UPCIC spokesperson, National Football League hall of famer and former Miami Dolphins quarterback, made a special appearance and spoke to the schoolchildren about the importance of education.
“We are honored to have UPCIC as a partner in our mission to help lower-income Florida families access schools that best fit their children’s unique learning needs,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “Through their support of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which is producing measurable results, companies like UPCIC are transforming the lives of deserving schoolchildren in our community.”
Since 2017, UPCIC has generously funded 1,260 scholarships through contributions totaling $8.5 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. Step Up is serving more than 100,400 students for the 2019-20 school year. More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
“It is an honor to be
placed in this prestigious ranking by the Chronicle of Philanthropy,” said Anne
Francis, Step Up’s vice president of development. “Being ranked 18th
in the nation, and first in Florida, is a monumental achievement that has been
made possible by our generous donors.
“In the last couple years, Step Up has grown from two scholarship offerings to five. Our largest program, the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, serves families with an average household income that is merely 8 % above poverty. Donors who invest in our scholarships and programs know their contributions change the lives of vulnerable children in Florida who seek a brighter future.”
Step Up’s total revenues in the 2018
fiscal year was $705.6 million, an increase over its $548.5 million in total
revenue in 2017. This allowed Step Up to serve more than 125,000 pre-K through12
students across the five scholarships programs it manages:
Charity Navigator and GuideStar, a pair of nonprofit watchdog groups, recognized Step Up in 2018 for its accountability and transparency.
Charity Navigator awarded Step Up a
four-star rating for the eighth 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.
Also, Step Up’s Jacksonville office was ranked third among best places to work in that city for businesses with 100-249 employees by the Jacksonville Business Journal. Its Clearwater office was ranked eighth among large companies in the Tampa Bay area by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Microsoft Store at International Plaza was filled with students from Bible Truth Ministries Academy, each seated in front of a Surface Pro laptop while completing coding tasks associated with the hugely popular video game Minecraft.
As far as
field trips go, this one was like entering the Nether – that’s Minecraft speak
for an alternative dimension.
“One of the
best,” said Elijah Jenkins, a sophomore at Bible Truth.
Jenkins was one of 50 students from the private pre-K-12 school in Tampa, Florida who spent a recent Thursday morning at the Microsoft Store.
awesome to hear,” said Ryan Candler, community development specialist at the Microsoft
The workshop meshed with Bible Truth’s STEM education program – science, technology, engineering and math. The students received an introduction to coding using Minecraft and received free backpacks filled with school supplies.
great experience to learn about computer software, where things come from and
how they operate their business,” Jenkins said.
The Minecraft coding workshop was arranged by Step Up For Students, which has a partnership with Microsoft.
Bible Truth has 105 students this year with 50, including Jenkins, attending the school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students, which is managed by Step Up.
“This was an
amazing learning experience for the students at Bible Truth and a great
opportunity for each student to experience power of technology,” said Carol
Macedonia, Step Up’s, Office of Student Learning vice president. “Our team at
OSL was very pleased to have our partnership with Microsoft unite with one of our
most supportive schools.”
Bible Truth principal, wants to improve her school’s technology capabilities,
both for teachers and students.
“I want the
students to have more exposure to good information on the internet, educational
directed information versus Facebook and Instagram and all the other information
they normally go on their cell phones for or their computers for,” Dean said.
She met representatives
from Microsoft’s education and training department last spring during a Step Up
meeting about MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) skills, an online academic
assessment for students.
visited Bible Truth to see the technology the school had and determine how it
could be improved. Teachers attended workshops and the students were invited to
the store for a two-hour, hands-on field trip.
While free back-to-school
workshops in the Microsoft Store is the norm, Candler said the Bible Truth
turnout was the largest. As a result, he needed a half-dozen employees to teach
the students, answer questions and keep the throng moving from station to
employees made it work, and Candler said it was worth the effort.
is big on diversity and inclusion, so being able to support a school that is
coming from a startup phase and trying to get more attention to their school is
pretty awesome,” Candler said. “A lot of what we do is not only supporting the
students but also the teacher development. When they leave the environment like
today having fun, they can also have that same STEM engagement in the
development is key. The idea is to have the students continue to learn the
technology they were introduced to during the workshop throughout the school
Bible Truth has a 3-D printer and offers classes in programming and robotics. It formed a team last year to compete in the FIRST Lego League.
do too well,” Dean said, “but they had the exposure to competition. This year
they’re really fired up about doing that.”
the earlier she can expose her students to computers the better.
way the world is going,” she said.
would like all of her students to graduate and attend college, she knows that
is not everyone will choose that option.
not for everyone,” she said. “So at least we would have given them some basic
exposure, so when they leave us, they can go get a job.”
Truth Ministries Academy
The private school located in the Belmont Heights section of Tampa has enrollment from pre-K to 12. It also provides day care. The main academic focus is on math, English and reading comprehension. Students also receive training in life skills – cooking, budgeting, home organization and management, construction, electrical and mechanics. Students also participate in community cleanups and assist elderly and disabled residents with home beautifying projects. Tuition is $8,375 per year.
marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAMPA, Fla.– Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), one of the nation’s leading wholesale alcohol beverage distributors, has once again contributed $65 million to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.
RNDC celebrated on Oct. 22 the substantial donation while visiting Tampa Catholic High School students who use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students. RNDC’s contribution funds 9,339 scholarships for deserving K-12 Florida schoolchildren. The scholarships give lower-income children the opportunity to attend a private or out-of-district school that best meets their learning needs.
“At Republic National Distributing Company, we are committed to making a positive difference that enriches the spirit and well-being of our associates, communities, and business partners”, said Ron Barcena, executive vice president of RNDC. “We know that our partnership with Step Up For Students is doing just that and we are proud to help provide thousands of Florida schoolchildren with the educational opportunities they deserve.”
While visiting Tampa Catholic High School, RNDC representatives had a chance to experience the zSpace Lab. zSpace is a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) system that uses a unique stylus and eyewear to create an interactive experience covering subjects like animal dissection and anatomy, but also others like geography and history. Users can access a frog dissection model, as well as other 3D programs like simulated archaeological digs or interactive geometry. Students enjoyed showing the representatives how to use the program and the different courses that are available.
Since 2012, Republic National Distributing Company has generously funded 49,675 scholarships through contributions totaling $310 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. Step Up is serving more than 100,400 students for the 2019-20 school year. More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
“RNDC has once again shown their incredible commitment to Florida’s disadvantaged schoolchildren through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program which 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 than their public school peers to earn a bachelor’s degree. RNDC is a critical part of this success and we are grateful for their support of deserving students in our community.”
Cee J learned those songs last spring when she participated in the Winning Reading Boost program for second-graders and above who struggled to read.
catchy tunes, and that is the point.
Sue Dickson, a former first-grade teacher and Safety Harbor, Florida, resident, wrote them years ago. The songs were the foundation of Dickson’s Sing, Spell, Read and Write, a widely successful phonics-based program published in 1972 that taught children to read. A decade later, when Dickson saw the need to reach older non-readers, she wrote Winning, a 90-hour intervention program with age appropriate stories and songs that had tremendous success in jails and teen detention centers.
“If you can
sing it, you can learn it,” Dickson said.
was used as a pilot program last spring with 10 students participating. Cee J,
then in fourth grade, was one of those students.
went very well,” Mount Zion principal Franca Sheehy said. “We saw results.”
misread more than five fluency words out of 60 on a K-1 phonics test were
included in the program. Combined, the 10 students averaged nearly 27 missed
words. Only one, a third-grader, missed fewer than 10, and that student missed
“I love it,”
said Cee J, who missed 29 of the 60 words. “When I didn’t do Winning Reading
Boost, I used to struggle at reading. As soon as I started this, it started
helping me, and I love how the songs made it fun.”
struggles stemmed from reading too fast, causing her to miss words. Winning
Reading taught her to read at a slower pace, which increased her fluency
Bogle-Duke, who teaches Winning Reading Boost at Mount Zion, said Cee J showed
the most improvement of the 10 students.
showed some growth,” Bogle-Duke said. “It was significant in others and a
little less in one or two.”
gained confidence in their ability to read. Using phonics, they learned to
decode words, rather than guess at them. Those who entered as choppy readers
learned to read at a smoother pace.
so impressed with Winning Reading Boost that it was added to the 2019-20 budget.
It will be used throughout the school year after they identify which students need
the intervention program.
Johnny can’t read
An October 2018 story in the New York Times referenced a study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that found only four of 10 fourth graders were competent readers. A big reason, the story stated, is students are not taught to read phonically, meaning they do not learn to decode words.
This is not
a new development. Dickson began teaching first grade in the 1950s in Arlington,
Virginia, when it was forbidden to teach phonics, learning by decoding the
relationship between sounds and spelling.
of education ridiculed the teaching of phonics,” she said. “It was just awful.”
was fresh out of college and just beginning her career, Dickson complied with
the school district’s stance during her first two years as a teacher. Yet, she
knew she failed those students who didn’t pass reading.
book reinforced Dickson’s belief that the school district’s stance was wrong. Not
only could she see that from the reading scores of her students, but also with her
younger brother, David, who struggled with reading. Dickson saw first-hand the
impact that had on David’s education.
“I was tuned-in to the problems that come
along when a kid can’t read. He was ruined,” Dickson said. “I was looking for a
way to fix it, and I found what was wrong.”
She began teaching
phonics to her students, and their reading scores improved. Eventually, Dickson
was asked to teach reading her way during summer school.
some students struggled because they were tripped up by what she called,
“hidden bloopers,” like the difference in the graphic forms of the letters “a”
and “g” in written text, and addressed them in her programs.
the 1960s, Dickson combined her love of music with her love of teaching, sat at
her piano and composed the songs for Sing, Spell, Read and Write.
The program went
nationwide in the 1970s, and school districts reported improved reading scores
by students who participated.
earth-shaking,” Dickson said of the program’s success.
In 2015, The Tampa Bay Times ran a series on how the Pinellas County School Board in Tampa Bay turned five once average public schools in low-income areas into what it termed, “Failure Factories.”
Searching for help, a grass roots St. Petersburg community reached out to Don Pemberton at University of Florida’s Lastinger Center, an innovative hub that brings together the latest developments in academic research and practice to improve education. Lisa Langley, Lastinger’s chief of staff, along with the UF team, Sue Dickson and her daughter Dianne Dickson-Fix (a retired elementary school teacher in Pinellas County) updated Winning and created Winning Reading Boost for students in grades 2 and up.
program involves 36 sequenced steps to independent reading through songs and
games and four books.
want the kids to memorize is in the songs, because the songs provide the
repetition to make the learning fast and easy,” Dickson-Fix said.
are put to music – rock, rap, country and calypso.
hands-on approach and it gets them excited to do the stories,” said Bogle-Duke,
the Mount Zion teacher. “The stories are not very long, so they get through
each part. They’re using the skills and they are reminded about what they just
learned to use as a tool for what they’re reading.”
students from stumbling over words they don’t know, there is not one word in
the story that hasn’t already been covered.
it out,” Langley said. “It’s like a shaky foundation for a house. She had to
knock that house down and rebuild that foundation.”
Why does it
music,” Bogle-Duke said.
agreed. She said her students don’t have a problem learning Bible verses and
pledges when they sing them.
able to memorize this information, and music helps them memorize the sounds,”
Sheehy said. “You hear them singing that song later. Eventually, the more they
sing it, they start putting the dots together and realize what they are
singing. The lightbulb goes on.”
Cee J’s mom, said she was glad when her daughter was asked last spring to join
teaching Cee J to read, but I wanted someone to take it a step forward,” she
said. “She was reading, but not how I wanted her to read.”
she was in the program, Cee J said her response was, “OK, I’m struggling. I
need to practice.”
continued to read her Winning Reading Boost books over the summer. She even
erased her answers so she could take the quizzes over.
reward for improving? A bookshelf in her bedroom and books to put on the shelf.
important to read,” Cee J said, “because when you grow up, you have to pay
bills and stuff, and you have to know what it says that you have to pay.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
There’s no doubt everyone has it in one form or another, like a T-shirt with a favorite band, a ball cap with a No. 1 sports team, a water bottle with a top brand. Yep, we’re talking about “merch.”
Every fan needs a way – or many – to express his or her
loyalty to something they support, and now Step Up For Students’ fans do too.
Introducing our online retail store hosted by Print Your Cause, where anyone can purchase merchandise with our branding. Here scholarship families, supporters and even Step Up employees can bring a little Step Up For Students into their wardrobe, cabinets or lockers.
We have merchandise for sale with our logo and then some super
fun items we created with our superheroes with sayings customized for parents,
employees, advocates, teachers and, of course, scholars. On our Step Up For
Students store website, you can find a variety of T-shirts, backpacks, jackets,
hats, water bottles, coffee mugs and more. Oh, there’s even a cool scarf for
“Sometimes at Step Up’s events and conferences, the staff
wears special branded T-shirts so attendees can easily spot us if they have a
question,” said Alissa Randall Fruchtman, Step Up’s Chief Marketing Officer. “To
our surprise, many attendees, often scholarship families, have asked if our
shirts are available for purchase. So that’s what sparked the idea to create a
Step Up merchandise store.”
The store has given more life to Step Up’s superhero
Once we decided to create merchandise, it made sense to add
our superheroes into the mix because we’ve had such great feedback on our
characters. We think they translated amazingly well to T-Shirts and more.”
The coolest part about having an online store is that for
every purchase people make, a portion of the money comes right back to Step Up
For Students to help serve our scholarship families.
“When we started developing the store concept, we
immediately decided we didn’t want to just make it a simple store. We wanted to
give back to the scholarship programs, and during our research we discovered a
relatively new concept by Print Your Cause,” Randall Fruchtman said. “We’re
thrilled to offer this merchandise and give back to the families we serve this
Jayson Tompkins, who also works for a national fundraising
software company, said he came up with the idea of creating Print Your Cause with
some friends and built it from there.
really all started from the overlap of interests and experience of a few close
friends. Between three of us, we had years of experience in printing for local
organizations, building software, and a passion for working with
nonprofits. We saw and experienced ourselves many of the logistical
challenges these organizations had with buying too much merchandise in advance
– oftentimes wasting precious resources and left with boxes of leftovers.
knew there had to be a better way. So we went to work on a software platform
that could utilize our specialized printing techniques to cut the waste,
provide consumers with a better experience, and transform how nonprofits are
able to sell their brand and Print Your Cause was born out of that mission.”
Tompkins said his company is thrilled to work with Step Up.
are excited to have the opportunity to work with such an incredible organization,”
he said. “Step Up For Students is a national leader in providing scholarships
for children, and it’s truly an honor for us to provide a service that can help
further their mission.”
He’s been working closely with the Step Up Marketing Team to
launch the online store.
The partnership has gone beautifully, Randall Fruchtman
“We’re thrilled to be
working with Print Your Cause. They’ve brought great ideas to the store, one of
them being the ability to customize the shirts for scholars, teachers, donors,
etc.,” she said. “Also, the products are printed on demand, so there isn’t any
So, we invite you to shop our store and feel good about the
There’s another way to get Step Up merchandise – and for
free. Learn how to sign up for our social influencer program and earn points to
win prizes including some items from our store. To learn more about that
program, go here.
We would love to see what goodies you get. Please take a picture of you showing off your Step Up gear using the hashtag #ISupportStepUp on our social channels, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We can’t wait to see the photos.
logs onto the computer set up in the dining area of the family’s home, and within
seconds, Allison Geller, the speech language pathologist who will spend the
next hour working with Beth’s daughter, appears on the screen.
the world of telepractice.
The Flowers live in Perry, Florida, a rural community in the state’s Big Bend where, Beth said, the nearest speech pathologist is 50 miles away in Tallahassee.
Beth could make the 100-mile round trip three times a week with Bralyn, 12, who is on the autism spectrum and is developmentally delayed. But that’s an inconvenience she wants to avoid, especially since her son Drayden, 8, would be included.
“That’s a lot, to load two small kids (in the car),” Beth said. “(And) it’s not that easy for a child with the daily struggle Bralyn deals with.”
Instead, Bralyn, with the help of a Gardiner Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students for children with certain special needs, works with a speech language pathologist who could not be any closer to her home even though the practice is located nearly 200 miles south in Tampa.
just two mouse clicks and a login away.
“No kidding,” Beth said. “It’s amazing.”
born 16 weeks premature. She weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces. As an infant, she
needed physical therapy so she could hold her head up. She then needed more
physical therapy to learn to sit and walk.
Bralyn lacked hand-eye coordination and muscle tone, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a Special Olympian, who participates in swimming, gymnastics and soccer skills.
tubbing down the nearby Suwanee River, camping and singing.
cover any song from classic rock to today’s hits.
our radio in the woods,” her mom said. “She’s right on key. There’ll be no
other music. It’s straight a cappella, and before you know it, you’re snapping
Beth and her husband Marti decided to home-school Bralyn when she was 8. That left their daughter without access to the speech therapist provided by their district school. Bralyn’s parents could help her with physical and occupational therapy, but for speech therapy, Bralyn needed a professional, and those are hard to find if you live in Perry. Because of that, Bralyn went two years without speech therapy.
almost resigned to load her children in the car and make the long commute to
Tallahassee when she had an idea.
One night in
the summer of 2018, she Googled, “online speech therapy.”
“I was at my
wits’ end. I had no idea it even existed,” Beth said. “I was taking a shot in
the dark. It was heaven-sent.”
been a speech language therapist for 18 years. She began her telepractice in
the spring of 2018 to reach clients who have transportation issues or cannot
leave the house.
is convenient for stroke victims or Parkinson Disease patients or someone with
a weakened immune system and must be in a controlled environment, though those
disabilities are not covered with the Gardiner Scholarship.
“All the research that is available to date shows that it is as effective (as in-person visits with a speech pathologist),” she said. “There is some newer research with kids on the spectrum showing that it might be more effective for kids on the spectrum than in-person therapy, which is really fascinating to me.
“I am eagerly awaiting for more research to come out in that area because I think it might make a big difference for kids on the spectrum down the road and it may be a more preferred way to treat them if the research holds up.”
is licensed to practice in Florida, New York and Kansas, uses Zoom, a video
conferencing program that allows Bralyn to access the screen and, with the use
of her mouse, click on images and boxes and write answers.
interactive, so it keeps them engaged,” Geller said. “And kids love the remote
together for an hour each week, and Geller leaves Beth with instructions and
activities for Bralyn to work on before the next session.
work with Bralyn is more than just improving her speech. They work on
communication and cognitive skills.
learning the different denominations of money and how to use them, how to
interpret traffic and safety signs, recognize the changes in the weather and
how to dress accordingly, how to prepare herself to go out in public, how to
communicate with an adult as opposed to someone her own age, how to write and
mail a letter.
One of the
first things Geller did with Bralyn was compose a song about her daily routine
so she can perform simple tasks many take for granted without being prompted by
her mother. Knowing Bralyn’s love of singing, Geller put the song to the tune
of “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams.
in the morning it’s a great day …”
followed by wash your face, eat breakfast, make your bed, get dressed and so
learned that song in two days,” Beth said. “My child can now sing her daily
routine and remember.”
in my life’
pleased with the strides her daughter has made in the year she has worked with
Geller. Her vocabulary has not only improved, but so has her ability to use
sometimes says things way out of context, but I can tell when certain subjects
have clicked because of how she said it,” Beth said. “If you’re talking about
money, she might have said, ‘I have monies to buy things.’ Instead she will
say, ‘I have money. I can buy things’ or ‘to buy things with.’”
has not met Bralyn or Beth in person (but hopes to the next time the Special
Olympics is held in Central Florida), has noticed improvements in Bralyn’s
communication skills from watching the videos Beth sends from the Special Olympic
a 12-year-old girl laughing and dancing with the other competitors.
“Her face is
lit up. She’s so happy and engaged with her friends,” Geller said. “I think she
uses a lot of these social skills and communication skills when she’s out there
in the real world communicating with other people.”
her daughter believes in the Little Mermaid, believes in Prince Charming and
cannot wait to become a teenager.
whatever’s good in the world,” Beth said.
Bralyn, “the sunshine in my life. It’s impossible to have a bad day with that
But Beth knows Bralyn will never be able to live unsupervised. Still, she wants her daughter to have as much independence as possible. Improving her communications skills is a huge step in that direction. “I want Bralyn to blossom to her fullest potential and do for herself as much as she can,” Beth said. “Obviously, and she wants that for herself, as well. Without (Geller’s) services, that will hinder her even more.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The online course is run in partnership with BloomBoard, the leading platform for enabling education advancement using micro-credentials.
The program begins
Sept. 16 and runs until March 1, 2021.
Each micro-credential, according to BloomBoard, defines a
specific goal or purpose; proven growth in practice and competence in each
skill, and recognition for that growth through a digital certification for the
most school leaders’ desire for opportunities to hone their craft and improve
key practices for teaching and learning, they simply do not have the time to
research and create their own professional growth experiences,” said Carol
Macedonia, vice president of the Office of Student Learning at Step Up for
Students. “Through this new certification program, Step Up For Students is
committed to providing school leaders with personalized, job-embedded
professional learning that is tailored to the culture of private education
settings and results in a change of practice, not just learning.”
have 18 months to earn eight micro-credentials – six required and two electives
– that are designed to foster professional growth and forward thinking for
school leaders. To earn a micro-credential, participants must demonstrate
competency in specific areas. A certificate is awarded upon earning the eight
Up for Students believes that the Choice Leader of Excellence Certification
Program is an important vehicle by which we can help administrators improve and
refine their practice and elevate the impact their school has on the lives of
their students,” said Jamie Onorato, Step Up For Students’ Office of Student
Guiding schoolwide positive student
Engaging families in support of
Selecting and facilitating use of
common instructional strategies.
Adopting a systems approach to school
Developing distributive leadership
teams in support of academic success.
Your choice: Mission, vision, values.
choose two of the following electives:
Equity and cultural responsiveness.
Promoting professional learning for
Operations and management.
of completing this program are school distinction (a searchable filter on Step
Up For Students’ ‘Find a School’ tool), board leverage (ability to demonstrate
competency as a school leader) and leadership building.
leaders have a significant influence on student learning and it’s imperative
that we provide them with professional learning opportunities that are
personalized to their individual needs,” BloomBoard CEO Sanford Kenyon said. “We’re
excited to partner with Step Up for Students to offer private school leaders
around the state an opportunity to build capacity while gaining opportunities
for incentives and advancement.”
Registration, which closes Aug. 26, is $695. There is a $100 reimbursement upon completion. Payment plans are available.