“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
We will begin sending you our most exciting news through
email to share with your friends and followers. You choose where you share our
content and any commentary you wish to make. You can share it through email, on
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or all of the above. Sharing our posts helps
spread the word about our programs to those who need it most so they can get
the educational help they need.
Helping us spread the word so it gets to those who might not
know about our five scholarship programs makes you not just a superfan, but a
hero in our eyes. And it’s just plain fun.
The best part? The more you share and participate, the more points you’ll earn towards a monthly giveaway. This month we’re giving away a $20 Amazon gift card and one of Step Up’s new promotional items of your choosing (from a selection).
To join now, click on the link below, connect with one of your social networks and start earning points to win. We are extremely grateful to those who help us get the message out.
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.
TAMPA – Trace Nuss was in the library at Jesuit High School a few weeks before Christmas when he received the email that he called, “absolutely life-changing.” He had been accepted to Princeton University on a QuestBridge Scholarship.
that I will be able to go to one of the top universities, not only in the
nation but in the entire world and be supported all the way through financially,
means the world to me,” Trace, 18, said. “It’s amazing.”
That same day, fellow senior Miguel Coste Jr., received a similar email from QuestBridge. He had been accepted to the University of Notre Dame.
Trace each scored high enough as eighth graders on Jesuit’s entrance exam to
qualify for the school’s financial assistance package, which covered roughly
half of the tuition. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarships covered the rest.
thankful for Step Up and the opportunity they gave him,” said Lisa Nuss,
Trace’s mother. “We wanted him to have every opportunity available to him, and
we didn’t want any of our circumstances to get in his way.”
California, QuestBridge is a nonprofit organization that runs the QuestBridge
Scholarship. It was designed to help head-of-the-class students from low-income
backgrounds attend some of the country’s best colleges and universities.
the scholarship means he can major in history and political science at an Ivy
League school while setting the foundation for a career as a civil rights
attorney. His goal is to protect the rights of those with mental and physical
disabilities to ensure they are not abused, a pursuit forged during his years
of working with Special Olympic athletes.
it means he will be first in his family to attend college as he begins his
journey toward a career as a doctor who brings quality healthcare to
lower-income families and neighborhoods. That quest stems from his economic
background and the fact both of his parents suffer from debilitating health
Miguel’s mom, Nordis Del Toro, “is absolutely fabulous.”
16,000 high school seniors nationwide applied in 2018 for a QuestBridge
Scholarship. Only 1,044 were awarded.
Miguel join Tommy Pham, also a former Step Up recipient and 2018 graduate, as
Jesuit’s only QuestBridge scholars since the program began in 2004. Pham
recently completed his freshman year at Notre Dame.
Trace is the
only child of Lisa and Richard Nuss Jr. Richard suffers from Brown-Séquard syndrome, a
neurological condition caused by a lesion in the spinal cord, and is unable to
work. Whatever financial hardship that presented certainly didn’t hold Trace back
inside or outside the classroom.
He is one of 161 high school seniors nationwide to be named a Presidential Scholar, an honor that came with a trip in June to Washington D.C. and a meet-and-greet with President Donald Trump.
amazing to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication I’ve put into my
studies,” he said.
Trace scored a 1550 on his SAT, graduated high school with an unweighted 4.0 GPA and was a National Merit semifinalist. He was a member of Jesuit’s Key Club, the Tampa Mayor’s Youth Corps and received the H. Norman Schwarzkopf Leadership Award from the West Point Society.
“Once I was
there, some of the athletes were like, ‘Oh Trace, can you come to our football
practice? Can you come to our volleyball practice? And I slowly and slowly got
more involved with all the different sports that Special Olympics offers and
got to see how life-changing these activities are for people,” he said.
awards $50,000 to a community hero every home game. Half goes to the student’s
education; the other half goes to a charity of his choice. Trace chose the
Special Olympics of Florida and Superstars of Hillsborough.
Lightning provide a suite for the Community Hero honoree. Trace filled it with
Special Olympic athletes.
He recently competed in his second
Teen Masters, the top tournament for teenage bowlers.
Trace, who carries a 209 average and
once bowled a 300 game as a freshman, coaches and supervises the Superstars
Bowling League in Tampa for bowlers with physical and cognitive disabilities.
inherently good person who’s kind and compassionate,” Lisa Nuss said. “He’s
wanted to change the world for as long as I can remember.”
One of the
more impactful moments of his high school career came last summer during a
Jesuit-sponsored mission trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South
Dakota. There, Trace and several of his classmates encountered children living
in extreme poverty.
was such hardship and difficulty that it’s something that I’ll never
experience,” Trace said. “It was kind of a life-changing moment to see how the
poverty in some places in the country and how much it needs to be changed and
When he returned home, Trace wrote a
note to his mom, thanking her for letting him attend the mission. Then he filled
a few boxes with toys and supplies and mailed them to the reservation.
thankful for the Step Up scholarship,” Trace said. “I feel that’s what drives
me to service, because someone is doing the service for me, so I want to give
back to the community, give back to other people. I want to pay it forward.”
to Notre Dame
Miguel will major in premed and minor
in poverty studies.
Why poverty studies?
helping people in that state of living,” he said.
Since his freshman year, Miguel has volunteered at Tampa Bay Harvest, an organization that collects and distributes food to the hungry and homeless in the bay area.
that helped him set his goal when he realized how many people in this world are
needy,” Nordis said.
Miguel has an unweighted 4.0 GPA and was a member of Jesuit’s Key Club. He
scored a 1510 on the SAT, is an AP Scholar with Distinction and was a
tri-valedictorian of his graduation class.
served as a peer minister and an alter server during his four years in high
Miguel won a district championship as a member of Jesuit’s wrestling team.
His parents, Miguel Coste Sr., and
Nordis, endured their own hardship when they emigrated from their native
countries – Miguel Sr. from the Dominican Republic when he was 30; Nordis from
Cuba when she was 8.
Miguel Sr. was born without the use of
his left arm. He managed to find work as a truck driver until he was injured 10
years ago and forced to retire. He does not speak English well, but managed to
volunteer his time at Jesuit as often as possible during the last four years.
Nordis worked at a printing company
before having to quit because of diabetes and arthritis.
The couple is also raising two
granddaughters because their mother is in prison.
Miguel works at a restaurant to help his
parents pay some bills. He also volunteers this summer in the interventional radiology department
at St. Joe’s Hospital in Tampa.
Those who apply for a QuestBridge
Scholarship are required to write a series of essays – some general, others aimed
at a specific school.
One essay asked applicants to write
about what drives me, my parents and the sacrifices they made, and my siblings,
they didn’t meet their potential and how that motivated me,” Miguel said. “I
see everything kind of as a competition, because that’s what it is. You’re
competing when you go to school. You’re competing to get a better education to
be more successful. I used my socioeconomic status and everyone around me as a
competition. I didn’t deliberately think about it. It was a subconscious one.”
Nordis first heard her son talk of
being a doctor when he was a sophomore.
“Junior year, he was insisting he was going to be a doctor,”
he said. “I was so proud of him. Not many kids his age have their goals set up
on being a doctor.”
Miguel and Trace set themselves up for
college during their time at Jesuit. Trace figured he was heading to the
University of Florida.
“I had always been a Gator fan,” Trace said. “I always loved
the University of Florida. I never thought these schools outside of Florida
were a possibility.”
interested in Florida, Florida State and Boston College.
their junior year, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesuit’s director of college counseling,
told them both about QuestBridge.
As they moved through the application
process, they were matched with some of the top colleges in the country. So, Miguel
added Vanderbilt and Notre Dame to his list of colleges. Trace added Notre Dame
Now, Miguel is headed Notre Dame.
fortunate enough to be placed in the right situation to succeed,” Miguel said,
“and (QuestBridge) recognize that.”
And Trace is headed to Princeton.
League wasn’t even … that’s like a dream,” Trace said. “I didn’t think that was
even possible. It’s been some road.”
Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesuit High School
in 1899, Jesuit High has 800 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12. Jesuit
provides a college prep curriculum to prepare students for higher education.
Tuition is $16,765 plus fees. Need-based financial aid and merit scholarships
are available to those who qualify.
If this graphic above caught your attention, read on. As a parent of a now-grown son who is a successful attorney, I can tell you that years ago I was that parent trying to figure how to get my very athletic, very intelligent son to enjoy – or at least partake in – reading that was not a “school assignment.” I was determined to have him love reading even if it was the last thing he wanted to do!!! For him, it wasn’t that he couldn’t read, rather, it was he simply didn’t see the need to read. So I set out to create reasons why a 9-year-old would actually want to pick up some form of text (notice I didn’t say a book) and read. Now 20 years later, I’m happy to report that although it took some time my plan worked!!
So here’s my summer formula for reading with reluctant readers!! READ, READ, READ and then read some more!
First, figure out what makes your child click. Is water sports? Climbing trees? Creepy bugs? Or things that bump in the night? Summer can be a busy time for families to fit reading into their daily routine, but like the Nike ad says, “Just Do It!” Make it a habit that is embraced by your whole family.
That’s right, mom, dad, auntie and grandpa need to be seen reading and TALKING about what they read! A habit only takes 21 days to establish and after that it is very hard to break.
(Do you know any children who struggle to read? Step Up For Students offers the Reading Scholarship Accounts for parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades three through five who are having trouble reading. Click here to learn more.)
I also know the importance of walking the talk and decided that whatever I would entice my son to read, I’d also read. This opened up great avenues for conversation and eventually even spirited debates about the virtues of a character in a book or predicting just how the story would end. Conversations about what we were reading often branched off into other topics and created common grounds for reflections and clarifying our beliefs and value.
Throughout the summer months, I stayed focused on my son’s passions and one morning next to his cereal bowl, I left a magazine article that featured a 10-year-old who ran a triathlon. To challenge my very competitive son I simply said, “Wow, did you see that a 10-year-old finished a triathlon, I wonder if you could too?” With that single statement he was hooked and off he went to devour the story and soon returned to share his plan for competing in a local race. I did a happy dance, as not only was he planning to compete in a triathlon, he actually asked if I had anything else he could read about world-class runners!
Then we set a target of books to read in a month. I should have known my son was predestined to be an attorney when he wanted to negotiate the numbers of pages of text versus pictures in the book that would constitute reaching his goal. Speaking of pictures, don’t ignore the strategically placed illustrations. Those pictures are great for connecting the story to real-life experiences: predicting what happens next and why, thinking about the author’s purpose for writing the book, and sharing the “movie in the reader’s mind” that the story was conjuring. For our plan, we finally agreed on 10 books or news articles (not too long!) for each month.
Next, pick “Just Right Books” with your reader As we went off to search for the books that he wouldn’t be able to put down, I had to make sure he had the “Just Right Book” in his hands— not too easy, but not too hard! A super easy way to make sure your child is selecting a book that they won’t labor over and forget why they are reading or speed through with little thought to the meaning is to use the 5 Finger Rule to pick a “Just Right Book,” Kids learn this quickly and for the most part it is a fail-safe quickie to help ensure you have “just right books” for your children.
Now Read every day! So armed with a backpack of those “Just Right Books,” the next step in the plan was to read every day. It doesn’t matter what it is just read something! Bear in mind this did not mean that I set the kitchen timer and had my son read until it buzzed. No way!! Do we, as impassioned readers, read that way? I tried to make it authentic, real. Some days I even read him stories from the newspaper. You guessed it, usually from the sports section, of course, or he’d read the classified ads, looking for a cheap bike, or we’d read together a chapter of one of his “Just Right Books” or while we were in the grocery store I’d give him a detailed list (ex. 2 ½ pounds of jumbo tiger shrimp) that he was responsible for finding. And I made sure he saw me reading. I wanted him to see that I set time aside in our hectic day to slow down and read. It’s that important.
Our Summer Reading Plan became a tradition in our family. Even to the extent of taking a special book or two on vacations to the beach or mountains. Now fast forward to this summer when my now 30-year old very professional, but still extremely sports-minded attorney son stopped by the house this spring. He was dropping off a Mothers Day gift: “The Autobiography of Mark Twain.” It was a great gift and great book, but the greatest gift was his words that accompanied the book, “Hey Mom I’m reading this too. Get started so we can talk about this guys’s crazy life!”
My Summer Reading Plan had worked!!!
Carol Macedonia is the vice president and founder of Step Up’s Office of Student Learning department. She came to us eight years ago after a 31-year career in the Pinellas County School District, where she rose to an assistant superintendent of schools.