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Donor Corner: Allegiant Travel Company

Editor’s Note: Step Up For Students would not be able to provide life-changing scholarships to low-income Florida children without the help of our generous corporate donors. Occasionally, we highlight the corporations that partner with Step Up to give K-12 schoolchildren educational options beyond those dictated by a student’s ZIP code, or income level through, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Today, we highlight Allegiant Travel Company. 

By Lisa A. Davis

Allegiant Travel Company specializes in linking travelers in small, underserved cities to world-class leisure destinations through its low-cost, high-efficiency, all-jet passenger airline. The company also offers other travel-related products such as hotel rooms, rental cars, and attraction tickets.

The company, which became publicly traded in 2006 under Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ: ALGT), also offers low-cost travel packages and has a strong presence in Florida.

“It allows working-class folks to use their local airport and fly and travel in a way that was previously economically not in their reach,” said Brian Davis, Allegiant’s vice president of marketing. “Most of the travelers we serve are budget-conscious vacation travelers, who come to town on Allegiant and are able to have a fantastic trip that’s within their budget.”Allegiantairlogo2

Since 1997, that’s exactly what Allegiant has been doing and now serves 107 cities throughout the U.S. Florida has become a vital part of Allegiant’s operations, serving Orlando, Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and St. Petersburg-Clearwater, where Allegiant recently added several new flights. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the airline’s first flight to Florida at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

“As our presence has grown in Florida, it’s important to give back to a community that has served us so well, and we feel we have very much become a part of over the years,” Davis said.

This was a key factor in the company deciding to partner this year with Step Up For Students, which helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income students. Allegiant has contributed $1 million to Step Up. The donation will provide about 170 students with scholarships worth up to $5,677 for the 2015-16 school year to help with tuition at participating private schools. Or, students may instead choose a scholarship worth up to $500 to help with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.

“This demonstrates our commitment to the state of Florida,” Davis said. “This helps us go beyond just flying into the state. We are able to give back through education. Education is so important and that’s why we’re investing in it.”

Allegiant’s primary charitable focus has been working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It was an ideal fit, Davis said, because the majority of wishes require travel, something Allegiant could easily provide. On a smaller scale, the company has worked with local schools near its headquarters in Las Vegas, organizing book bag drives and other activities. Partnering with Step Up was the next step that made sense, he said.

“We are so grateful to Allegiant for their generous contribution and commitment in helping us provide educational options to students in Florida who need it most,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “We’re excited about this upcoming school year and watching our scholarship programs grow with new donors like Allegiant. There’s no better investment than in the education of our children.”

 

 

New PLSA reimbursement system launches in early September

Byplsa-princess-header_faith_bar Lisa A. Davis

Summer has come to a close, and Step Up For Students looks forward to serving more students than ever this school year. An estimated 78,000 income-based scholars are expected to enroll in private schools throughout Florida and increased funding will allow us to award double the number of students we served last year with Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA).

“It’s exciting,” said Jeff Giese, Step Up’s director of operations.  “We’re gearing up for another busy year and, as always, we’re looking to fine-tune systems and processes we have in place as we go along.”

One of the biggest changes this year is the PLSA reimbursement system. Step Up took down the old system this month and will launch a new user-friendly system in early September.

“What we heard from parents throughout the first year of the PLSA was that our system was cumbersome and where claims were in the process wasn’t clear, so we’ve actually built an entirely new system,” said Elizabeth Watson, Step Up’s director of client services. “We are certain this system will serve PLSA families and providers well. It will allow parents and providers full visibility to all account activity and, because this system was built by our internal IT department, any system-related issues will be addressed immediately.”

Step Up recently emailed PLSA families to alert them of the changes.

“If you didn’t receive the email, please make sure we have your current email address,” Watson said. “It’s important to keep that updated with us because for the PLSA program and the income-based scholarship program, this is our primary method of communicating with our scholarship families.”

While the transition is in the works, PLSA families won’t be able to submit new reimbursement claims or access their accounts. In the meantime, Step Up employees are still processing reimbursement claims submitted before the 5 p.m., Aug. 17.  Once the new system is launched, parents and guardians can immediately submit any claims.

“Remember, you can still be reimbursed for any approved items that were purchased, or approved services rendered after July 1, 2014 as long as you still have funds in your account,” Watson said.

For a list of approved items and services and more instructions on submitting reimbursement requests, review Step Up’s 2015-16 Parent Handbook..

For more Information, email plsaclaims@sufs.org or call the Contact Center at 877-735-7837.

“We are committed to answering calls and emails promptly during this period of downtime,” Watson said. “When the new system is live, you’ll again have full access to any account data since the beginning of your participation with the PLSA program. We look forward to hearing your feedback on the new system.”

Step Up For Students prepares to roll out new program to assist low-income students in south Pinellas

Lisa A. Davis

Volunteer Florida, the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, recently awarded Step Up For Students an AmeriCorps Grant to assist low-income students in south Pinellas County with supplemental education services to boost their academic achievement. VF logo

Step Up’s AmeriCorps Achieve program will launch in October and provide 20 AmeriCorps volunteers to work as teachers’ aides in seven St. Petersburg schools serving some of the poorest children in the city.

Members will each earn a stipend of $12,530 annually, as well as tuition assistance for college, among other benefits, support the classroom teacher  with increasing literacy and math achievement, said Carol Thomas, vice president of Step Up’s Office of Student Learning, which oversees the program.

The AmeriCorps volunteers also will help track students’ academic progress on special software, part of a program created by Step Up For Students called the Teaching and Learning Exchange (TLE). The software allows teachers to produce learning goals, monitor student success and exchange information with parents or guardians.

The extra help will give teachers more time to work on lesson plans, prepare for parent conferences and meet parents  – something they rarely have time to do, Thomas said.americorps logo

“We are really giving them that gift of time, that resource of time,” she said. “That resource of time is just as valuable a resource as software.”

Additionally, volunteers will operate an afterschool program to enhance learning and help raise awareness about community and education partnerships. At the end of the year, the AmeriCorps members will be responsible for improving the academic achievement of 80 percent of all students participating in the Achieve program.

“The ultimate goal of the AmeriCorps Achieve program is to raise student achievement in reading and math,” said Judi Duff, who will manage the volunteers. “According to a recent investigation in the Tampa Bay Times, most of the public elementary school students in south St. Petersburg are failing in reading and math. The tax credit scholarships given by Step Up For Students are giving families in this area a choice for a better education. AmeriCorps’ Achieve program will provide manpower and resources to help combat this problem.”

Duff used to work in Title 1 public schools in Hillsborough County and, later, as a media specialist for Florida College Academy in Temple Terrace.

“I look forward to getting into each of these schools and finding ways for the AmeriCorps Achieve program to help raise student achievement. Each of these schools is unique with its own set of challenges,” said Duff. “My job will be to provide them with the right AmeriCorps member who will be the best fit for their students and program.”

Glen Gilzean, Step Up’s vice president of Family and Community Affairs, authored the grant proposal to help create the AmeriCorps Achieve program after collaborating with Rev. Dr. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. Sykes is a strong supporter of Step Up For Students and the tax credit scholarship program.

“My goal is to ensure low-income students have access to additional educational services to succeed academically,” said Gilzean.

The schools mostly are in south St. Petersburg: Mount Moriah Christian Fundamental Academy, Elim Junior Academy, Mt. Zion Christian Academy, Bethel Community Christian School, Academy Prep of St. Petersburg and Cathedral School of St. Jude. More than 570 Step Up income-based scholars attend these schools.

Many of the schools are already part of Step Up’s Success Partners program.

Since AmeriCorps’ founding 21 years ago, more than 900,000 members have contributed more than 1.2 billion hours volunteering across American working with nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based groups.

 

 

 

Step Up For Students earns highest rating from Charity Navigator for fourth consecutive year

By Lisa A. Davis

For the fourth consecutive year, Step Up For Students has earned a four-star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent charity watchdog.Charitry Navigator logo

“As the nonprofit sector continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, savvy donors are demanding more accountability, transparency and quantifiable results from charities they choose to support with their hard-earned dollars,” John P. Dugan, Charity Navigator’s founder and chairman of the board, wrote in a congratulatory letter to Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “Our goal is to provide donors with essential information needed to give them greater confidence in the charitable choices they make.”

The four-star rating comes after Charity Navigator conducted its annual review of Step Up, giving the nonprofit organization that helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) an overall 99.92 out of 100 points, with 99.9 points in financial management and a 100-point score in transparency. Step Up also helps administer the state-funded Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), but the program wasn’t in effect yet during the time period in which the nonprofit was reviewed.

“This is the highest rating a nonprofit may receive and is further recognition of the phenomenal job our staff does every day,” Tuthill said. “This is a wonderful accomplishment and further demonstrates how seriously we take this business of making a difference in the lives of Florida’s schoolchildren who need educational options most.”

During the 2014 fiscal year, Step up received $332.3 million in contributions, gifts and grants to fund and administer the scholarship programs.

“Only 8 percent of the charities we rate have received at least four consecutive four-star evaluations, indicating that Step Up For Students outperforms most other charities in America,” Dugan wrote. “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Step Up For Students from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”

The superior rating secured the Tampa Bay area nonprofit the No. 4 spot for the second year in a row on Charity Navigator’s 10 Top-Notch Charities list, where Step Up moved two years ago from No. 7.  The list attests that the 10 recognized charities adhere to good governance and other best practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities. It also shows they execute their missions in a fiscally responsible way.

“We are proud of being No. 4, but it is our goal to reach No. 1,” Tuthill added. “What we do is extremely important work for low-income children and children with certain special needs, so we need our donors and supporters to know we are and will continue to be good stewards of their money and their trust.”

Since 2002, Charity Navigator, also a nonprofit, has awarded only the most fiscally responsible 501(c)(3) organizations its top ranking using  financial information provided by the organizations’ informational tax returns or IRS Form 990s to determine rankings. The national company then analyzes a charity’s fiscal performance in seven key areas, including program, administrative and fundraising expenses; fundraising efficiency; and revenue growth.

Step Up For Students has been awarding scholarships to low-income families for nearly 15 years, providing more than 400,000 scholarships to K-12 schoolchildren. Step Up expects to serve 78,000 low-income students and several thousand more children with special needs in the 2015-16 school year. The income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is worth up to $5,677 toward private school tuition and fees; the PLSA scholarship averages $10,000 per student annually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student Spotlight: Denisha Merriweather, Step Up graduate; USF graduate student

Student-Spotlight_blog REseizedBy Sherri Ackerman

The daughter of a teenaged mom and high school dropout, Denisha Merriweather thought she was destined for a similar path. Receiving a scholarship from Step Up For Students changed her life. Denisha snipToday, the 24-year-old college graduate is working toward her master’s degree.

“I’m just so grateful,’’ Denisha said. “This never would have been possible without the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.’’

She’s on a mission now educating others about Step Up and seeking support so the nonprofit can continue to help disadvantaged students like herself realize their dreams.

“So many doors of opportunity have been opened for me that I feel the best way to say thanks is to make sure other children are given the same chance,’’ Denisha said.

Read more and watch videos about Denisha’s path to success through Step Up For Students here.

School Spotlight: Merritt Island Christian School

By Estefania “Nia” Nunez-Brady

If Principal Jamie Bopp could use only one word to describe Merritt Island Christian School (MICS), it would be “family.”

Principal Jamie Bopp

Principal Jamie Bopp

“Our family environment creates a culture of genuine love for one another,” he said. “We seek to live out our mission … and we are constantly asking ourselves what’s best for our students?”

MICS is a co-educational pre-K through 12th-grade day school on a 14-acre campus along Brevard County’s Space Coast.  Of the school’s 300 K-12 students enrolled in 2015-16, 72 will receive the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students.

Instruction is focused on academic achievement, which is measured annually by the national TerraNova test in grades K-10. Students in grades 11 and 12 take college placement tests, such as the ACT and SAT.

“We want to make data-driven decisions to best serve our students,” Bopp said. “We are proud to say that our school scored above the 2015 national average in every grade!”

Tuition this school year ranges from $6,592 to $9,476, depending on grade. Merritt Island is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and a member of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.

Students take part in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), a new initiative that allows them to bring their iPads, Kindles, cellphones and other electronics to class. The goal is to engage students and boost achievement, Bopp said.

MICS also is growing a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program, offering students a diploma track, and the school recognized the first graduates of the program last spring.

“We have invested in technology because it helps our students learn,” Bopp said.

High school students can participate in a dual enrollment program through Palm Beach Atlantic University that allows them to earn college credits faster.

In addition to academic courses, students can choose among more than 35 activities, including robotics, choir and sports – which boasts 10 highly competitive varsity teams. The school also features a fine arts department that produces award-winning work.

Every year, MICS has a theme to encourage students to excel – academically, emotionally and spiritually.

“Our MICS theme for 2015-2016 is ‘Anchored,’” Bopp said. “It is a theme based on identity. We will ask our students, ‘What are you anchored in?’ We will encourage them to be anchored in Christ.”

Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story?  Please contact Estefania “Nia” Nunez-Brady, marketing specialist, at nbrady@stepupforstudents.org.

Meet MICS graduate Savannah Lang.

 

 

Student Spotlight: Savannah Lang, Merritt Island Christian School graduate

By Estefania “Nia” Nunez-Brady

Student-Spotlight_blog REseizedRhonda Ford wanted more of a say in her only child’s education. But the divorced mom and self-employed massage therapist thought her options were limited to her neighborhood school.

Then one day in 2002, Ford learned about Step Up For Students and the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Once the family received approval, Ford enrolled Savannah Lang into

Savannah Lang, left, receives her high school diploma in May from MICS Superintendent Nanci Dettra. Savannah plans to take classes at Eastern Florida State College this fall.

Savannah Lang, left, receives her high school diploma in May from MICS Superintendent Nanci Dettra. Savannah plans to take classes at Eastern Florida State College this fall.

kindergarten at Merritt Island Christian School (MICS) for the 2002-03 school year.

Mother and daughter never looked back. Today, Savannah is a high school graduate starting college in the fall with plans to become a pharmacist.

“Step Up for Students helped my daughter in every way,” Ford said. “I am a single mom and I would never have been able to afford a private school like MICS.”

Ford liked the small class sizes and the Christian environment, and the partnership between teachers and parents.

“I felt like I had more control over her education, and I felt comfortable knowing that her friends and their parents had similar beliefs to mine,” she said. “Savannah did not get lost in the crowd.”

Savannah excelled academically, earning an overall 3.89 GPA for her high school career. Her favorite subject was math because there are many ways to solve a problem. She was part of the National Honor Society and received the Humanitarian Award for most volunteer hours.

Savannah also participated in dual enrollment at MICS, taking high school courses along with college-level ones through a local community college and Palm Beach Atlantic University. During her senior year, she received the Principal’s Scholarship, a two-year award from Eastern Florida State College to help pay for classes there. She starts in the fall and has earned enough credits to receive her Associate in Arts degree in less than two years.

“While I was at MICS, my teachers and my mom taught me to be a hard worker,” Savannah said. “If I put my mind into something, I will achieve it. I have a dream of becoming a pharmacist, and I will achieve it and be very successful.”

She gained a lot of maturity in recent years helping care for her maternal grandmother, who was paralyzed by a stroke and died in July 2014.

“I couldn’t have made it without Savannah’s help,” Ford said.

Her daughter spends most days now working at a pharmacy. But Savannah is not all school and work. When she has some free time, she enjoys horseback riding and volleyball.

After she graduates from Eastern College, Savannah plans to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville. She said she will miss the 26 seniors she graduated with at MICS. Together, they amassed more than $1 million in college scholarships, Principal Jamie Bopp said.

Many of those students also were on the Step Up For Students scholarship, like Savannah.

“Step Up For Students is giving students and their families an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Bopp said. “Savannah’s story is a perfect example of that. You doing what you do helps us do what we do. You truly are making a difference.”

Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story?  Please contact Estefania “Nia” Nunez-Brady, marketing specialist, at nbrady@stepupforstudents.org.

 

School choice is good for teachers, too, says Step Up President Doug Tuthill

By Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students President

Editor’s note: This commentary originally ran in Education Week.

Pres-Desk_Final resizeWith her recent passing, Marva Collins is being remembered for her glorious educational crusade to turn around the lives of low-income black children in Chicago. It’s also worth remembering how she chose to do this. She cashed in her teacher-pension savings in the 1970s to start her own private school. With it, she combined a no-excuses attitude with high standards, strict discipline, and love—and got amazing results with limited resources.

In other words, Collins was empowered by school choice.

Twenty-five years after Milwaukee put private school vouchers on the map, a majority of states now have some form of private school choice. Just this year, Arkansas created its first voucher program, and Indiana expanded its voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Five states either created or expanded education savings accounts, including Florida, which tripled funding for its program; and Nevada, which spawned the nation’s most inclusive program, available to more than 90 percent of its students.

These opportunities are created, first and foremost, to give parents the power to choose the educational options that are best for their children. But teachers benefit as well, even if the story lines seldom mention them.

As choice expands, teachers will see more opportunities to create and/or work in educational models that hew to their vision and values, maximize their expertise, and result in better outcomes for students. Increasingly, they’ll be able to bypass the red tape and micromanagement that plague too many district schools and serve students who are not finding success. In short, they’ll be able to better shape their destinies, and the destinies of their students.

I should know. I’m a lifelong educator and former teachers’ union president who now heads a nonprofit that administers the nation’s largest private school choice program. I have seen firsthand how all forms of school choice can offer teachers more opportunities to innovate.

My home state of Florida is brimming with examples. In June, ABC’s “World News Tonight” put a national spotlight on a particularly inspiring one: the Human Experience school in Orlando, Fla. Doing their best impression of Marva Collins, teachers Danita Jones and Nathan Smith started the one-class, one-grade, micro-school last fall by pouring in their life savings and getting an assist from tax-credit scholarships. Why the urgency? “If you were standing on the side of the pool and saw someone drowning, would you jump in to save them?” Jones told ABC. “Lack of access to quality education—you might as well be drowning in a pool.”

Florida teachers now have more power than ever to improve access to quality education by creating, leading, and teaching in their own schools. And it’s because no state has done more to expand educational choice. Florida is among the top handful of states when it comes to the number of charter schools and charter school students. It is home to the nation’s biggest tax-credit-scholarship program and the second-largest program of education savings accounts. It has the largest voucher program for students with disabilities and the second-largest pre-K voucher program. All told, these programs of school choice serve about a half-million students.

Florida also now has more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts. Nearly 14,000 of them work in charter schools, which surpasses the public school teaching workforce in nine other states. At the nonprofit I lead, we routinely hear stories of teachers who migrate from district schools to private schools. They’re choosing these options for the same reason parents are—because they offer a better fit for their individual needs.

The world is full of square pegs. As long as public education remains highly centralized, it’s inevitable that somebody’s vision for what is best will be imposed on somebody who bitterly disagrees, and some students who would benefit from one approach will be jammed into another. Decentralization through expanded choice is the best remedy, and not just for students. Some teachers work well with large bureaucracies, some don’t. Choice gives them the opportunity to find or create schools that play to their strengths and interests.

In a growing number of states, pathways are increasing for teachers to do just that. Those who take them are finding a rich landscape where technology and customization are driving diversity. New programs, such as Course Access, give teachers innovative platforms to think out of the box—and out of the schoolhouse. Meanwhile, tools like education savings accounts, better known as ESAs, give parents direct access to all the educational services their children may need, including teacher-run schools. ESAs can benefit teachers and families the way Uber has helped drivers and passengers—by kicking middlemen to the curb.

As this drive for teacher and parent empowerment accelerates, I have no doubt the opportunities for teacher leadership will grow. For the time being, teachers’ unions will continue advocating centralized management systems that use collective bargaining to impose one-size-fits-all solutions. But eventually the unions, too, will evolve and find ways to serve teachers who are thriving in other environments. Instead of uniform salary schedules, for example, they’ll help teachers be free agents, similar to what professional-sports unions have done for their members. Instead of only supporting district-run schools, they’ll help teachers start and manage their own schools.

Like Marva Collins, some passionate and enterprising educators will always find ways to create their own models. But as more states crack open the doors to educational choice, it’s easy to envision an army of Marva Collinses charging through.

 

Plenty of sleep + good nutrition = energetic and alert student

today's lesson snipBy Ashley Foster, Guest Blogger

As parents prepare for the upcoming school year, it’s important to ensure their school-age children have enough energy to carry them through the school day and after-school activities. One of the simplest ways to achieve that is through healthy sleep and eating habits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elementary-aged students should aim for at least 10 hours of sleep per night, while teens need nine to 10 hours a day.

Students who show up to school well rested and well fed will be ready to attack the day, and studies have shown that students who eat a high quality balanced diet perform better on tests and have better cognition and concentration in class.

Each meal should have a good balance of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, fiber and healthy fats to keep your children going.  Here are some balanced breakfast ideas that are fairly quick to throw together:

5 Breakfast ideas:

Oatmeal: Whole rolled or steel cut oats with sliced blueberries or apple, ½ cup milk and 1 TBSP Peanut Butter. Or if you’re strapped for time in the morning, try overnight oats.

Eggs: scrambled, hard boiled or make these mini frittatas in a muffin tin ahead of time so kids can grab and go.

Yogurt bowl: Greek yogurt mixed with chopped fruit, granola and/or nuts

Mexican breakfast wrap: whole wheat wrap with scrambled eggs, avocado, tomato, cheese and black beans

Smoothie:

  • 2/3 cup (almond* rice* or dairy) milk or juice,
  • 1 handful of spinach (you won’t taste it! Promise J),
  • frozen fruit of your choice (berries have lots of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber),
  • 1/2 to 1 banana
  • 1 TBSP peanut butter or almond butter OR ½ avocado
  • *add 2/3 cup yogurt or cottage cheese if you don’t use dairy milk to substitute protein

 

5 brain-boosting foods and why you should try them:

  • Salmon: essential Omega 3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain
  • Blueberries: linked to better short term memory
  • Spinach: carotenoids and flavonoids reduce free radicals in the body and protecting brain tissue 1
  • Eggs: egg yolks contain B-complex vitamin choline, which is associated with better neurological function
  • Oatmeal: helps regulate spikes in blood glucose, which is the brain’s main source of fuel.

Sources and for more information visit:

http://www.extension.org/pages/68774/3-ways-nutrition-influences-student-learning-potential-and-school-performance#.VR7GNvmAG9E

http://www.californiahealthykids.org/articles/NPA_3.pdf

http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/what-we-do/breakfast-for-healthy-kids

http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.htm

Ashley Foster is Step Up For Students’ former Marketing Manager, who recently moved with her husband, Gary, to North Carolina for his job. They live in Raleigh with their new puppy Lady Mae. Ashley currently teaches yoga at a local studio and is searching for the next step in her marketing career. 

 

Behind the Scenes with a Donor: Frontline Insurance Blog Interviews

 

Editor’s Note: This post kicks off our semi-regular feature: Behind the Scenes, where we give you an inside look at Step Up For Students. We hope you enjoy it!

By Ashley Foster, Guest Blogger

Flash back to September 2014.

CaptureBehindthescenesAt Step Up For Students, we are involved in a lot more than processing scholarships. As many of you know, the income-based (or Florida Tax Credit Scholarships) are funded by corporations whose leaders believe in our mission to help families choose the best learning environment for their children. One donor company was so interested in Step Up, their marketing team wanted to interview some families.

Frontline Insurance, a new donor to Step Up and an insurance company based in Lake Mary, arranged to meet families face-to-face and hear their stories in their own words about benefiting from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students. So in September, the Frontline marketing team, accompanied by one of our Step Up employees and two professional photographers, arrived at the Tobar family’s home in Apopka to learn about their experience with the scholarship program.

Before we started the interview, Mario, then a high school senior, showed us his football awards and talked about his favorite players as his mom, standing in the kitchen, smiled with pride. Once we got started, Kiara Sanchez-Mora and Kristin Hunkiar, members of Frontline Insurance’s marketing team, sat on the living room sofa with a laptop and asked Mario, his little sister Gabby and their parents, Kenia Palacios and Victor Tobar, about Step Up and why it was a good fit for the family.

Kenia explained, with tears in her eyes, how thankful she was Mario had the chance to experience such a dramatic turn-around at his Orlando high school, Bishop Moore Catholic High School, and how proud she was of Gabby who attends Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic School, adjacent to Mario’s high school. Both use Step Up’s income-based scholarships to attend the schools of their choice.

Frontline Portrait-

From left to right: Victor Tobar, Gabby and Mario Tobar, and their mother, Kenia Palacios.

Once the interview was over, the Tobar family stood at their kitchen counter while the photographers adjusted the lighting on their flash, checked their computer monitors and snapped away. As we were saying our goodbyes, Kiara and Kristen made friends with the Tobars’ then-puppy, named Tebow, who had been patiently waiting in his crate.

It’s all in a day’s work, and we couldn’t do it without our awesome families who share their inspiring stories, and our donors who make the whole program possible.

In less than a couple of weeks, Mario is on his way to the University of West Florida in Pensacola where he will study engineering and play football. He has been working two jobs on the weekends to save a little bit of money to take with him.

You can read Frontline’s story here, along with the story of another amazing Step Up family in Ormond Beach, whose children have also benefited from Step Up For Students scholarships. Also, reach Step Up’s story about Mario here and about Faith Manuel and her eldest child, Davion Manuel-McKenney of Ormond Beach here.

Ashley Foster is Step Up’s former Marketing Manager, who recently moved with her husband, Gary, to North Carolina for his job. They live in Raleigh with their new puppy Lady Mae. Ashley currently teaches yoga at a local studio and is searching for the next step in her marketing career.

 

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