It is time to recognize outstanding members of the Step Up For Students family – students, teachers and parents – for their efforts this school year during our annual Rising Stars Awards program.
Each school can
nominate up to six individuals, and the first person nominated must be a
selected will be honored in March and April during ceremonies held in one of 16
locations around the state.
principals can nominate students for one of the following:
High Achieving Student Award. Students who excel in academics,
arts or athletics.
Turnaround Student Award. A student who struggled when they
first attended your school and has since made dramatic improvements.
Outstanding Student Character Award. A student who demonstrates
outstanding compassion, perseverance, courage, initiative, respect, fairness,
integrity, responsibility, honesty or optimism.
push students to succeed, who truly represent the power of parent partnerships
and focus on building relationships for success or who embrace the importance
of continuous improvement and professional development can be nominated for the
Exceptional Teacher Award.
guardians who actively support your school and the education of his or her
child are eligible for the Phenomenal Family Member Award.
Deadline for nominations is Jan. 31, 2020 and can be made here.
Before making nominations,
please have all necessary information available, including school name, school Florida
Department of Education (DOE) number, each nominee’s contact information (name,
phone number, email address). Please include a short description of why each
person is being nominated.
The Rising Star Award ceremonies are
scheduled for the following cities.
Miami-Dade North: Monday, March 16
Miami-Dade South: Tuesday, March 17
Palm Beach: Thursday, March 19
Broward: Monday, March 23
Leon: Tuesday, March 24
Lee: Tuesday, March 24
Brevard: Wednesday, March 25
Hillsborough: Wednesday, March 25
Duval East: Thursday, March 26
Pinellas: Thursday, March 26
Duval Central: Monday, March 30
Volusia: Tuesday, March 31
Marion: Tuesday, March 31
Escambia: Wednesday, April 1
Orange East: Thursday, April 2
Orange West: Thursday, April 2
Event locations will be announced at a later date.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
MIAMI LAKES, Fla. – Joshua Sandoval sat at a table inside the LIFT Educational Academy and, with a laser-like focus, wrote in his journal. The topic: What was special about the classroom?
He was on
his third sentence.
Nilsa Roberts, sat two rooms away, watching Joshua on one of four monitors hanging
from a wall in the office of Dr. Fabian Redler, the school’s director and
in a word, amazed.
She did not
see a child with behavioral issues, as one school labeled her son. She did not
see a child who struggled to complete assignments, as some of Joshua’s former
teachers complained. Instead, she saw a student quietly going about his task.
amazing,” Roberts said as she stared at her son’s image on the screen. “I’ve
never seen him like this. He’s so focused.”
tumors are in his brain. They cause daily seizures. The medication he takes makes
him fidgety. Staying focused can be a struggle.
said, her son does not have behavioral issues, and he is not, as one teacher told
speaks two languages – English and Spanish. He is an avid reader and uses an
extensive vocabulary for his age. He knows all the words to all his favorite
songs. He interacts well with other children.
right field on his Little League team.
“What I know
with Joshua is he’s very smart, and he learns different from other kids,”
She knew if
she could find the right school, the right setting, Joshua would thrive. She
spent a lot of time looking.
Joshua is in
the sixth grade. LIFT is his seventh school.
Roberts said, “we found the place.”
The LIFT Educational Academy is part of What’s On Your Mind, a psychology,
tutoring and brain fitness center that has three south Florida locations,
including one in Miami Lakes, Florida, the same town where Roberts and her
by Redler, 20 years ago as a psychology and brain fitness center for children, What’s
On Your Mind is well-known for aiding children in developing the brain skills
essential for learning and surpassing their abilities through their trademarked
decades of consistent progress has resulted in the establishment of LIFT
Educational Academy four years ago, after parents urged Redler to start a much-needed
LIFT has 12 students
ranging from first to 12th grade. Redler said the school could
expand to 24 students.
obtain a psychoeducational evaluation to determine cognitive deficiencies in
the skills involved in learning – attention, memory, visual processing and
processing speed. They receive brain-based exercises to strengthen those areas.
exercises are tailored to each student and integrated in their English Language
Arts and Mathematics curriculum.
itself is a perfect scenario for a child that is really behind and can use
every single day to catch up both academically and deal with the issues that
have been holding him back, which are all those cognitive areas,” Redler said.
found What’s On Your Mind two years ago while researching education options for
Joshua. She brought him in for an evaluation, signed him up for the summer
program then enrolled him in LIFT.
was unique with Joshua was the seizures. We didn’t know what to expect in terms
of whether the brain training would stick, because of all his seizures,” Redler
said. “We had to work as much as we could to just develop his ability. Whatever
stays, stays. Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t. At the end of the day, it’s given him
the best interventions that he can have. So far, it’s been awesome.”
like a miracle’
had three brain surgeries, the first when he was 3. He still has tumors in his
brain, including one in his right eye.
can have as many as three seizures a day, he senses when one is coming on and
he can usually go to a quiet place.
stiffens and his breathing increases. He feels a pounding inside his head. His
eyes open wide and his right hand goes straight up. He can hear people talk,
and it helps if someone is telling him he will be OK. The seizures last between
90 seconds and 3 minutes and occur mostly in the morning or when he’s going to
embarrassed by it, but he does a good job of hiding it,” Roberts said.
he can’t, which happened often at his prior schools. Some classmates made fun
of him, which made him angry. The fact that he was behind his classmates in
learning – reading at a grade level or two below them – also made him angry. He
felt like an outsider and started acting up, so it became a behavioral thing,”
fourth grade, Joshua was placed in a class for students with behavioral issues.
Roberts said it was a lost year in terms of academic growth.
literally nothing that year,” Roberts said, “because in the first week of
school, they gave up on my child.”
finding Redler and his program has been “kind of like a miracle.”
was, ‘He’s on medicine so he can’t focus. He’s had seizures and he can’t
focus,’” Roberts said. “He’s able to do it now, and I think those exercises
have helped a lot. I think it’s meant for his way of learning.”
is going to do amazing’
Maritza Perera, the school counselor at LIFT, interrupted Joshua while he was writing in his journal. His presence was requested in Redler’s office, so he could talk about his school for this story.
not happy. He was only two sentences into his journal assignment.
He was shy,
unusually so, according to his mom.
Do you like
going to school here, he was asked.
Do you want
to share what you were writing in your journal?
his head no.
Do you like brain
do you like best?
the answer interesting.
Box is for when thoughts come in that have nothing to do with what your focused
on,” Redler explained. “You’re trained to take those thoughts and put them in
your mental treasure box and go back to them later.”
After a few questions about baseball – Joshua likes the Miami Marlins and bats right-handed even though he’s a natural lefty – he returned to his classroom and his journal.
watched her son on the wall monitor. School has been a struggle for Joshua, but
she’s confident he is finally in the right setting.
Now that he
is no longer a lost student, Roberts sees a brighter picture when she thinks
about Joshua’s future.
positive about Joshua. Joshua is going to do amazing,” she said. “I see him
continuing to grow in education. I can see Joshua going to college. I can see
him having a job, a very good job somewhere and being independent. I can see
him doing that.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part series for Giving Tuesday on how the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students, provided a bright future for a student from a lower-income family.
spent seven weeks during the summer of 2019 working at a medical clinic in a
small town in Guatemala. He traveled to the Central American country on his own,
lived with a host family and used the Spanish he learned in high school to
with the nurses, taking the blood pressure and recording heights and weights of
patients. He would give health clinics, teaching the residents how to clean
their food and even how to clean their hands
didn’t want to leave,” he said. “You would think that
after being away from home in a foreign country for seven weeks that you would
be excited to come back home. But for me, I wanted to stay and continue to work. To me,
that work felt meaningful.”
The opportunity arose because of the work Tommy did during his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, where he is now a sophomore pre-med major with a full scholarship.
He earned the opportunity to go to Notre Dame because of the work he did at Jesuit High School in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. There, Tommy was a top student, active in the school’s clubs and a participant in summer mission trips.
19, were to talk to students who received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for
the first time, he would use words like “opportunity” and “resources” and
“investment,” as in those who donate to
the scholarship are investing in your future, so use the resources
now available to you and make the most of this opportunity.
“It’s really up to them on how much they want to change what they have right now, their own circumstances,” Tommy said. “My own circumstances pushed me to work a little harder, work a little extra so that I could go beyond ‘average.'”
“I’ll have to admit, it’s easier said than done,
But it can
Tommy is a
His parents, who emigrated from Vietnam in the mid-1990s, are employed in the service industry, sometimes balancing two jobs as a waiter or waitresses to provide for Tommy and his younger sister, Jennifer, who attends the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
their children academically so Tommy and Jennifer would never have to run from
job to job in an effort to make ends meet.
aware of the sacrifices made by his parents. The best way he can thank them, he
said, is to max out on his academic opportunities.
He did that
at Jesuit, earning a coveted QuestBridge scholarship.
Students who receive a QuestBridge Scholarship call them life-changing. Started in the mid-2000s at Stanford University, the scholarship provides a full four-year scholarship for top academic students from lower-income families at some of the country’s top colleges and universities.
Tommy, now a
sophomore at Notre Dame, is majoring in neuroscience and behavior. He is
thinking of becoming a neurosurgeon.
load this semester includes organic chemistry II, physics, neuroscience,
psychology and theology. He is also conducting research for a way to analyze
certain molecules that might inhibit cancer immunotherapy.
He spent the
fall break with classmates in West Virginia, helping to build wheelchair
accessible paths and picnic areas at the New River Gorge in the southern part
of the state.
always a top student, but he admits he might not have made it this far without
the opportunity provided by Step Up. It allowed him to attend a top academic high
school and not be intimidated by classmates who came from wealthier
Step Up, I am just like any other kid at Jesuit,” he said. “It feels like the playing field is more balanced. For those being supported by Step Up, we pretty much have
the same resources right now like the
other students. We don’t have to worry so much
about being at a disadvantage. Instead, we can focus on being grateful and thankful
for the opportunity that we have as a result of Step
Up. The opportunity doesn’t come out of nowhere.
People are donating to the scholarship so that we can
further our own education, and we should be appreciative of that.
“But what I
become is on me. What we have as resources can only push us so far in our lives.
But what we do with those resources can really change the outcome of our own
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series for Giving Tuesday on how the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students, provided a bright future for a student from a lower-income family.
Tommy Pham decided he wanted to become a doctor during a week at a Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp, helping children who have been affected by the disease that weakens the muscles.
swimming and horseback riding, dancing and zip-lining. Fun activities, for
and the other volunteers were on-call 24 hours a day to help the children eat
and shower, brush their teeth and use the bathroom – simple tasks for most, but,
monumental obstacles for these young campers.
probably the first time in my life where I had to actually take care of
somebody else besides myself,” Tommy said. “It helped me grow as an individual,
definitely an experience that called me into the medical field,” Tommy said. “Definitely.”
Tommy, 19, attended the camp the summer before his senior year at Jesuit High, a private Catholic school in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. The life-altering week was one of several of what Tommy called “resources” available at Jesuit that helped shape who he is today.
(Read the first installment of the three-part series about Tommy here.)
There were the academic resources that allowed Tommy to become an honor student and earn a QuestBridge Scholarship that pays for his entire college education.
There were other
resources, the clubs and summer volunteer programs, that added to his personal
Tommy’s parents are from Vietnam. They emigrated to Florida 25 years ago and both work in the service industry. They often work two jobs each to help care for Tommy and his younger sister Jennifer, a senior at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. Jennifer attends the private high school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
understands the sacrifices his parents made with the hope he could attain the
American dream. He was eager to use every resource available at Jesuit to move
him in that direction.
and behavior major at Notre Dame, Tommy wants to become a doctor that helps
those in financial need. That desire to work among the underprivileged was born
the summer before his junior year. He spent a week on a mission trip to northern
Georgia. While Tommy’s family struggled to make ends meet, this was the first
time he experienced extreme poverty.
we can do much more than just work in our local community,” Tommy said. “It
broadened my idea of community service. It also expanded my comfort zone.”
clubs and volunteer programs at Jesuit are designed to move the students along
to higher education. That was always Tommy’s goal.
I didn’t completely understand the whole
application process until junior year,” he
said. “Realizing, ‘Oh wait, money is a big factor, too.’ I thought maybe if I work hard on my academics that I could eventually get into a
The QuestBridge Scholarship was founded by Stanford University in the mid-2000s to give top academic high school seniors from lower-income families the opportunity to attend a top college or university.
one of 918 students nationwide from the class of 2018 to earn a QuestBridge
scholarship. He was the first from Jesuit to receive one.
school in Indiana, more than 1,100 miles from his hometown. He was introduced
during his freshman year to northern winters. For the first time in his life,
he saw snow and experienced subfreezing temperatures.
setting is different, but Tommy feels comfortable in his new surroundings. While
challenged by the workload associated with pre-med courses, Tommy is prepared.
more confident in myself, much more confident in my own abilities,” he said, “just
knowing that there is a supportive community (at Notre Dame) that is always
willing to help you grow, not only academically but also emotionally and
spiritually. Jesuit definitely introduced me to that aspect of learning. For
that, I’m very thankful.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a three-part series for Giving Tuesday on how the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students, provided a bright future for a student from a lower-income family.
80,000 fans squeezed their way into Notre Dame Stadium on the first Saturday of
November 2019 to see the football team pull off a thrilling last-minute
Tommy Pham would have been in the student section, screaming himself silly with
his schoolmates as the Fighting Irish rallied for the win. But on that Saturday,
the sophomore from Tampa, Florida who majors in neuroscience and behavior,
found himself in another part of campus, getting a jump on some schoolwork.
Would Tommy loved
to have been across campus at the football game? You bet.
But he is in
the pre-med track with his sights set squarely on medical school and a career
as a doctor, perhaps a neurosurgeon, though Tommy has a few years before he has
to pick a specialty.
It’s that ability to ignore distractions and immerse himself in the resources available at his schools that served Tommy well during his four years at Jesuit High in Tampa and now at the University of Notre Dame outside of South Bend, Indiana, which he attends on a full academic scholarship.
blessed knowing I can use these resources to grow emotionally, academically,” Tommy,
19, said, “so that later on in life I can be at the place in my life that my parents have always wanted to be in but
couldn’t due to their limited resources.”
parents emigrated from Vietnam to the United States 25 years ago. They are both
employed in the service industry, sometimes working two jobs each to make ends
This left Tommy to look after his younger sister, Jennifer, who is nearly two years younger and is a senior at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. Like her brother, Jennifer attends a private high school with the help of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
almost like a third parent, in a way,” Tommy said. “I matured much quicker as a
child than other kids.”
parents always stressed education. Using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship,
Tommy left his district school for Incarnation Catholic School as a
sixthgrader. From there, he scored high enough on the entrance exam to earn a
spot at Jesuit.
An honor student who graduated near the top of his class, Tommy turned that Jesuit education into a QuestBridge Scholarship, which covers 100 percent of the cost of his college education.
is a California-based nonprofit designed to help academically gifted students
from low-income families attend some of the top colleges and universities in
Tommy said he has thanked his parents “many, many times” for pushing him academically and pursuing a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
times I wouldn’t see them at home,” he said. “Seeing that cycle for a long time
made me realize they definitely made a lot of sacrifices. It takes a lot of
energy to do that every single day for 18 years of my life. It definitely
pushed me harder to work and minimize the excuses I make for myself.”
He has often
wondered what his life would look like now had he not received a Florida Tax
Credit Scholarship. Given his work ethic and his desire to learn, Tommy knows
he would be in college. But where? Would he be in a pre-med program? Would he
even want to be a doctor?
the resources at his neighborhood school would have been limited compared to
It was while volunteering at a camp for children with Muscular Dystrophy before his senior year when Tommy realized he wanted to be a doctor. Having seen extreme poverty during a mission trip the previous summer to the Appalachia area of Georgia, Tommy decided he wanted to work with low-income and disadvantaged patients.
“My life could be really different, and I’m not sure if that difference would be a good thing or a bad thing,” Tommy said. “But I know for sure the values I have today were because of the opportunities Jesuit offered. I value education, but I also value personal development, as well, and I’m not sure if that personal development would have been as great like it was for me at Jesuit had I gone to a different school. I definitely value that part of my high school experience, for sure.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Step Up For Students is participating in Giving Tuesday and would like your support to ensure a bright future for disadvantaged Florida schoolchildren.
To assist Florida children who can use a helping hand, please donate to Step Up here, or, better yet, get your friends and family involved with a Facebook Fundraiser.
“We encourage Step Up supporters and friends to create a Facebook Fundraiser for $99 this Giving Tuesday season,” says Karis Tuner, Step Up’s director, development. “We chose that amount because a major study by the Urban Institute showed that Florida Tax Credit students who were on the scholarship for at least four years were 99% more likely to attend college than their peers. That’s an amazing number and we believe it should be celebrated!”
Step Up’s goal is to have at least 99 Facebook Fundraisers created, raising an amount of $99 each. Click here for instructions on how to create a Facebook Fundraiser or watch this short video. Fundraisers can be created now through Dec. 3 for the Giving Tuesday campaign.
Kayla Fudge, a Step Up graduate who is featured in the video, is one of the 99% of students that is now attending college. She was on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for more than four years and graduated high school magna cum laude with a 3.89 grade point average. Thanks to Step Up supporters like you, she has a very bright future ahead of her. She is only one of #99ReasonsToGive this Giving Tuesday. Learn more about her story here.
Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York to generate online donations to charities on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It falls after Black Friday and Cyber Monday and was created as a day to give back before the end of the year.
In 2018, over $400 million where raised online, and overall, the Giving Tuesday movement has raised more than $1 billion online in the U.S. alone in the past seven years, according to the Giving Tuesday organization.
A gift made to Step Up today means disadvantaged
children like Kayla can access numerous educational resources that best suits
Step Up provides scholarships to more
than 136,000 schoolchildren in Florida through five scholarships that help
lower-income families, students with special needs, students who are victims of
bullying and struggling readers.
Kayla Fudge was a newborn, her mother struggled to take care of her. In swooped
Kayla’s great aunt Glendora like a guardian angel. She loved. She nurtured. And
public school teacher for 14 years, Glendora Jackson-Fudge raised three
children of her own before adopting Kayla when she was 2. Glendora and husband
Michael Fudge, a landscaper for 31 years, didn’t have much money. But as
parents they were full of fun, wisdom, and old-school values.
mom and dad to me,” said Kayla, who was born and raised in Jacksonville. “They
didn’t have to take me, they wanted to. That makes me feel special. I know they
believe in me if no one else does.”
belief propelled the 20-year-old to college. She is only one credit away from
earning her associate degree. Kayla still lives under her parents’ roof, but
those old-school sensibilities mean she pays for room and board, does chores,
and works part time.
a mother and educator, Glendora knew best. After Kayla attended her
neighborhood elementary school, Glendora switched her to private school. Kayla
was always a bright student with grades to match. Glendora was watching over
her and knew she would do even better with an education customized for her.
native of Jacksonville’s southside, Glendora was a working mom who put in
enough nights and weekends to earn two master’s degrees in education. She
taught social science in district schools. One day she fell coming out of her
classroom and tore cartilage in her knee. She endured unbearable pain for three
years before retiring in 2010.
lost a big chunk of my teaching income, like 60%, when I had to retire and go
on disability,” Glendora said. “So, the scholarship really helped. And my
husband’s work is seasonal. We were able to survive. If we didn’t have that
scholarship, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for private school.”
took just two weeks at Kayla’s neighborhood middle school for Glendora to make
couldn’t take it there,” Glendora said. “I couldn’t even take being a
substitute teacher there, so I couldn’t imagine her staying there. All the
fights, the drama, the disruption in the classrooms.
Kayla wasn’t being challenged, either. She was bored. I thought she would do
better with more individualized attention.”
and Kayla say the scholarship was like a ladder to fulfilling her potential.
The neighborhood schools were swelling with students, and Kayla felt like she
didn’t belong and couldn’t stand out.
public school, my mom said I would dumb myself down to blend in. I didn’t think
she was right,” Kayla said. “But when I got to different schools with more
people on the same academic level as me, I really felt what she was talking
longed for classroom challenges, but just as important was a brightly lit stage
and her desire to explore performance art.
knew Kayla had talent when she was in fourth grade. She sang a Celine Dion song
and won first place in a summer camp talent show.
has a strong, soulful voice and graceful movements. Her almond eyes convey
myriad emotions. Her personality sparkles in conversation, but on the stage she
really comes alive.
Kenny High School was
Kayla’s third private school, and when she arrived for 11th grade,
she quickly found it was worth the wait.
really made me more excited about academics,” Kayla said. “I wasn’t just
remembering information for a test, I was actually learning skills. But the
biggest thing was I had a lot more opportunity to show my personality than at
guidance counselor, Scott Sberna, pushed her to get better grades, but more
importantly, he pushed her to enter the school pageant. She wasn’t going to do
it, but he wouldn’t let it go. When he saw the spark of Kayla’s passion, he
motivated and encouraged her to go for it.
pageant is a very big deal to a lot of families and young ladies in our
school,” Sberna said. “Tryouts start before the Christmas holiday. Practices
run three days a week or more until dress rehearsal. Many families hire private
had scant experience doing plays at her previous high school. This was a solo
shot, and a pressure cooker at that.
we have six to 10 visiting queens and members of their court (from nearby high
schools) who come for the show and support their BKHS friends competing,”
her performance, Kayla danced while singing “Almost There” from Disney’s
“Princess and the Frog.” The applause was thunderous. She was the pageant
runner-up and won the award for most talented. She created a YouTube page to
share a video
of the performance.
led to an audition for a performing arts college in Los Angeles. She was
accepted, but tuition was about $22,000 a year even with the school granting a
scholarship. It was out of reach, but not out of her heart.
Kayla went on to graduate magna cum laude with a 3.89 grade point average. She attends Florida State College in Jacksonville, where she has a 3.2 grade point average studying physical therapy and has never gotten a C. She’s thinking about transferring to the University of Central Florida for a seven-year physical therapy program. She’s also considering the University of North Florida to switch her focus to animal care.
She sings at church and still dreams of performing. To keep that dream in the forefront, Glendora is bringing Kayla to a Tyler Perry audition in Atlanta later in November.
“My goals after college are to be a physical therapist, have my doctorate in physical therapy specifically and to be an actress at the same time, which is a weird combo, but it’s completely achievable,” says Kayla with a bright smile. She knows her future is bright.
would not surprise me if she does all three,” Sberna said. “She has the
intelligence, grit, and chops to do it all. She deserves all the credit for
pushing herself to where she is today.”
Thomas, Step Up’s social media manager, contributed to this report.
Today, Step Up For Students celebrates National Philanthropy
Day. We want to thank all those who have donated and supported our efforts
throughout the years. You’ve helped us change the face of education in Florida.
Because of your valuable support, we’re changing our community every day.
How? The numbers tell the story.
More than 136,000 students use Step Up For Students scholarships this school year.
Since 2001, more than 784,000 Florida Tax Credit Scholarships have been awarded.
Five education choice programs are available through Step Up.
More than 1,800 private schools partner with Step Up.
All of this is possible because of our donors and supporters
like you. Thank you!
Philanthropy Day recognizes and pays tribute to the great contributions that
philanthropy makes. Step Up especially wants to recognize the people who are
active in the philanthropic community and the difference their contribution
makes in our lives, our communities and our world – to our scholars and their
When National Philanthropy Day was first celebrated in 1986,
according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, President Ronald
Reagan signed a proclamation officially recognizing Nov. 15, 1986, as the
Here at Step Up, we’re thankful for our supporters every day!
Without you, none of this would be possible.
Happy National Philanthropy Day!
Judith Thomas, Step Up For Students social media manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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.