By PAUL SOOST
KAR Auction Services, Inc. (NYSE: KAR), a global vehicle remarketing and technology solutions provider, on Feb. 26 made a $1 million contribution to Step Up For Students, a Florida-based nonprofit, which administers scholarships for lower-income schoolchildren.
KAR’s financial commitment will fund scholarships for 153 Florida children — giving them more educational options and opportunities.
“We believe in second chances for cars, people and communities — that includes partnering to provide students with quality educational options,” said Jim Hallett, chairman and CEO of KAR. “The state of Florida is home to more than 650 KAR employees as well as countless valued business partners and customers. And we are committed to supporting the communities in which we work and live.”
This is KAR’s first time partnering with Step Up For Students, which helps run the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged Florida children. The corporate-funded program gives children assistance with private school tuition or transportation costs for out-of-county public schools. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the program serving nearly 102,000 students during the 2017-18 school year.
“We are excited KAR Auction Services has joined us in our mission to empower Florida families by helping them find the best learning environment for their children,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “Your contribution to the Step Up scholarship program will make a lasting difference in the communities you serve. On behalf of our Step Up families, we thank KAR.”
KAR owns and operates 15 whole-car and salvage auctions in Florida, and provides wholesale automotive services to auto dealers throughout the state.
By JEFF BARLIS
The note was written on a torn piece of paper slipped through a slot in Hannah Waibel’s locker. When she opened the door, it fell to the floor.
You should just kill yourself. You’re not wanted here.
Hannah cried as she retreated to the bathroom to call her mom. The bullying at her neighborhood middle school in Arcadia had been relentless, but this crossed a red line and triggered Hannah’s darkest moment.
“Maybe they’re right,” she thought, warm tears staining the crumpled note.
She contemplated suicide for a second and it scared the heck out of her. But the next emotion she felt was anger. Minutes before she found the note, Hannah had left a two-hour meeting with her parents and the school resource officer. He had assured them he would fix the situation.
Hannah’s mom, Jennifer Gross, stormed back to the school to withdraw her daughter. Hannah was already in the office filling out her 25th incident report in the first month of her seventh-grade year.
More than 47,000 public school students in Florida were bullied or assaulted in some way in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the most recent state statistics. Spurred by those numbers, state lawmakers are considering a new type of scholarship, the Hope Scholarship, to give victims a way out.
“I couldn’t stay,” said Hannah, chin quivering, voice cracking as she recounted her story. “Suicide is scary. You can never take it back.”
She and her mom share the same dirty blond hair, dark brown eyes and wary smile. They were determined to find safety above all else. Hannah’s grades in elementary school were excellent, but middle school was about survival. She got C’s and D’s.
“She really didn’t care anymore,” Jennifer said. “Didn’t want to be there.”
What started in sixth grade with adolescent dramas between on-and-off friends, turned into excommunication and worse in seventh grade.
Hannah isn’t sure why she became a target of girls she once called friends. She wasn’t born and raised in Arcadia, which made her an outsider. She was also pretty and well dressed, which seemed to explain why they shouted “slut” and “whore” at her.
“I was an outcast,” Hannah said.
Having no friends made things worse. The isolation was devastating.
Harassment came in the form of shouts in the hallway, mutterings in the classroom, text messages from random phone numbers, messages on social media. Hannah was repeatedly threatened for filing incident reports. Usually the gist of it was: “You’re no good” and “Why are you here?”
It didn’t get too physical – a shoulder here, a shove there, a stack of books knocked to the ground – but it still hurt. Yet nothing ever happened to her bullies. The note in the locker was the final straw.
Jennifer, a former chef at a nursing home and later a stay-at-home mom who married a fire sprinkler installer, knew about Faith Community and the Step Up scholarship. She had looked it up years before, when her oldest daughter, Chelsea, suffered through the same kind of bullying at the same school.
Back then, Chelsea was unable to attend because of transportation issues – the family had just one vehicle. This time, when Jennifer called principal Joni Stephens to enroll Hannah, the school was full.
Jennifer detailed Hannah’s ordeal. She begged. Tears fell on both ends of the phone. It was too late in the school year to get a scholarship, but Stephens had never turned anyone away.
“I knew I was going to make room,” she said. “It’s not about the money. If it was, we wouldn’t be here.”
The school is only a few short blocks from the district school, but it felt like a new universe to Hannah.
“She was very quiet, very shy,” Stephens recalled. “She wouldn’t look at you in the face. You could tell she had been emotionally damaged. She didn’t trust anybody.”
In her first two weeks, the unthinkable happened.
Hannah was sitting on a stage in the cafeteria when a bigger, older girl started punching her and dragged her off the stage by her hair. She tried to defend herself, but school officials quickly intervened.
As she sat shaking in the front office, waiting for her mom to arrive, she also saw how Stephens handled the issue on the spot. Two lunch ladies came in and described what happened, confirming Hannah did nothing to provoke the fight.
It turned out the attack wasn’t random. The older girl was a cousin of one of Hannah’s old bullies. She was suspended for a week and later transferred.
After what she had been through at her previous school, Hannah was amazed by the response. Slowly but surely, her frayed nerves recovered. Her confidence returned.
With a Step Up scholarship starting in eighth grade, Hannah soared to the honor roll. Now 16, she has accelerated her learning to combine 10th and 11th grades in the current school year, and is on track to graduate next year as valedictorian or salutatorian.
She’s also thinking about college and an apartment.
“It makes me feel grown up,” she said. “From everything I went through to graduating early, it makes me proud.”
Hannah still runs into her bullies at Walmart or the restaurant where she works part-time as a hostess. They still lob insults and threats, but now Hannah brushes them off and walks away smiling.
Her secret? She uses it as motivation now.
“I just want to show everyone that did me wrong that I’m better than that,” she said.
About First Assembly Christian Academy
The school opened in 2010 with 12 students. It now has 125, including 73 on Step Up For Students scholarships. The school uses a self-paced curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), and all high school graduates earn an accredited diploma through dual-enrollment at Lighthouse Christian Academy. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is administered annually. Tuition is $7,000 a year.
Jeff Barlis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By GEOFF FOX
Abby Alexander is a 9-year-old entrepreneur who has developed – and hit the local market with – her own line of skin-care products. She recently sold her Gifts by Abby Lane merchandise during an event at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.
Her brother, Christopher, 13, loves acting and wants to eventually write and direct movies. In his spare time, he reads Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe.
Abby and Christopher are biological siblings who were adopted at a young age by Kelli Alexander and Nicholas Alexander of Spring Hill, Florida, about 50 miles north of Tampa.
Christopher was 4 when the Alexanders adopted him, and he soon began attending a neighborhood school. Around third grade, he started having some difficulties.
“In school, the teachers started to notice that he was getting distracted by little things, like the temperature of the classroom or his friend was wearing new shoes,” Kelli Alexander said. “He couldn’t focus on what the teacher was teaching and his (learning style) is very one-step-at-a-time. He couldn’t focus. He’d get instructions and would get lost in multiple-step instructions.”
He often struggled with reading and math, and would come home frustrated and discouraged.
The Alexanders had adopted Abby when she was 19 months old. When Abby started school, she had different challenges.
“Abby struggled with not being in control of things,” Kelli said. “Anytime the teacher would deviate from a schedule, she couldn’t focus. If they were five minutes late for art class, it would throw off the rest of her day. She was done.”
It didn’t help that Abby also had attachment and anxiety issues, as did her brother.
Now in seventh grade, Christopher was diagnosed on the autism spectrum around age 9. Abby, a fourth-grader, was 7 when she was diagnosed on the autism spectrum; the Alexanders also were told she is gifted.
Thanks to the scholarship, Kelli has been able to afford to home school Christopher for the past four years, while husband Nicholas works at a Walmart distribution center. Abby started home schooling this year. Kelli Alexander said she is pleased with her children’s progress, and both kids said they are
happier learning at home, where they are also close to their 3-year-old brother William.
“Our family is always on a tight budget,” Kelli said. “The scholarship has allowed us to choose high-quality curricula, quality technology and supplies to cater to their special needs. The scholarship allows us to decide what, where and how we teach our children. We can design a curriculum that plays off of their strengths and passions. Since being home-schooled, both have shown remarkable improvements not just academically, but emotionally as well.”
The family, including Kelli, regularly participates in community theater productions at Live Oak Theatre in Brooksville, which has Christopher dreaming of a career on the stage or in a director’s chair – or both. He said his overall outlook on life has changed since he started home schooling.
“Home-school is so much better,” he said. “My other school was so stressful and fake. The kids and students were crazy and stressful – naïve.”
He has acted in community productions of “Around the World In 80 Days,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Secret Garden,” “Annie” and “Peter Pan.” He is currently auditioning for the part of Quee, a dwarf in the medieval comedy, “ReUnKnighted.”
“I really want to be an actor,” he said. “That’s my dream. I look to do any roles that sound good.”
It helps that he is a voracious reader.
“Right now, I’m on ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio,” he said.
In the fall, Abby decided she wanted to earn her own money. Her strong interest in science and math led to the idea of starting her own line of skin-care products.
“With the scholarship, we were able to find resources to help her learn about small businesses and in a very short time she created a business plan,” Kelli Alexander said. “Gifts by Abby Lane was born at our kitchen table. She makes specialty items that don’t have any added perfumes or dyes. In the past few months, she has expanded from selling to friends and family to setting up booths at large markets and she has many more planned for the coming months. This business venture has been the greatest hands-on lesson for her in business, economics and customer service.”
Abby described the products as a “sugar scrub.”
“At first, we gave them as presents to some of our friends, then I thought it would be cool to make products that almost everybody can use,” she said.
Her interests are not bound to beauty products. The family has two kittens – Genie and Bobby – which has sparked her enthusiasm for the veterinary field.
Abby, described by her mother as “very analytical and practical,” has such a keen interest in national security that she has also considered a career as a border patrol agent.
Kelli Alexander marveled at the progress her children have made.
“The Gardiner Scholarship has given us the opportunity to help them pursue their dreams,” she said.
Geoff Fox can be reached at email@example.com.
By PAUL SOOST
TAMPA, FL – Cigar City Brewing, a Tampa-area brewery, announced on Feb. 2 a $30,000 contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program for the 2017-18 school year.
This is the first time that Cigar City Brewing has partnered with Step Up For Students. The company’s contribution will fund four K-12 scholarships so financially disadvantaged Florida children can attend the school that best meets their learning needs.
“Cigar City Brewing is proud to support our community, and even more proud to make a difference in the life of a child through providing educational opportunities that might not otherwise be available,” said Justin Clark, Cigar City Brewing’s chief operating officer. “We admire the work of Step Up For Students and are pleased to join in this partnership.”
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for lower-income children throughout the state. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations and allows parents and students to choose between a K-12 scholarship to support private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.
“We are honored to welcome Cigar City Brewing 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. “We are grateful for their generosity and their commitment to giving back to their community.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up $6,343 per student for kinergarten through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Paul Soost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If Ashley Elliott’s story continued to unwind the way it began, it was sure to be labeled as a tragedy. She was born drug addicted to a single mom whose love of escaping reality in the most unnatural of ways was greater than her maternal instincts.
“Statistically speaking, I should be on drugs, be dropped out and be pregnant or even have a baby right now,” Elliott said. “But I don’t.”
Fortunately for Elliott, she had the help – and as it turns out, the strength – to spin her story in a different direction. “I grew up in the epitome of American poverty. But I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anyplace else because it taught me to be humble; it taught me to get out of tough situations; it taught me to help others to get out of these situations,” said Elliott, now 19 and a 2016 high school graduate freshman in college. “That’s why I want to be a teacher.”
At a young age, Elliott was adopted by her grandmother, who also lived in poverty and struggled with health issues. She did the best she could and showered Elliott with love. But as the saying goes, sometimes love just isn’t enough.
By the time Elliott was a teenager, she didn’t feel like she belonged at her neighborhood school and was being bullied. As a result, her grades plummeted. It was at a “last-resort” alternative public school in Polk County where she met teacher Jen Perez, who saw the hurt in Elliott’s eyes and the daily struggle she faced. Mark Thomas, an administrator at the school, noticed it, too.
After Elliott had a fistfight with a boy in ninth grade, Perez reached out to her. “I told her everything that was going on,” Elliott said. “That’s when I knew I could trust her.” The trust quickly became mutual, as Elliott began babysitting Perez’s children. Thomas earned that trust by showing that he cared for Elliott’s well-being. When her family’s power was shut off, for instance, he stopped by with a chicken meal. So, when Thomas accepted an opportunity to lead Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, it shook Elliott.
“I ran and said, ‘You can’t leave; you can’t leave!’” she said. “I knew the next administrator wouldn’t be someone I could lean on. “Two days later, Ms. Perez called me and said, ‘I think I’m leaving.’” As Elliott’s world froze, Thomas and Perez talked about their special student. “What are we going to do with Ashley?” they asked each other. The answer hit them. “We take her with us,” Perez said.
When Perez first suggested it, Elliott, armed with misconceptions about the private school, resisted. She worried about rich kids and snobbery and, once again, not fitting in. She also thought it was infeasible, until she learned about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program through Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the program funded by corporate donations. Suddenly, she was a private school student with Perez and Thomas by her side.
“These two people have been in my life and led me in the right direction before I even knew it,” Elliott said. Things started to change. Elliott began to change. “In my first year, as a junior, I got A’s, B’s and C’s,” she said proudly. “I had my grandma come to school for an open house. She was like, ‘Oh Ashley, A’s, B’s and C’s! You haven’t done this well in a long time!’”
She also ran track and started to tell her story. She made friends and earned the respect, and perhaps admiration, of the so-called “rich kids.” Her confidence grew. And she learned the biggest life lesson one could ever learn: “Your situation does not define you,” she said. “You define your situation.”
When Elliott arrived at Victory, her GPA was 2.16. When she walked across the stage and turned her mortarboard’s tassel from right to left, she had a 3.3 GPA, an acceptance to Valencia College and a plan to continue and complete her teaching degree at the University of Central Florida.
She eventually wants to earn a master’s degree.
“At Victory with the Step Up program, it gave me a chance to succeed because they told me I was worth it,” Elliott said. “Step Up and Victory have changed my life.”
Lisa A. Davis can be reached at email@example.com.
By PAUL SOOST
Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), the nation’s second largest wine and spirits wholesaler, announced on Feb. 6 a contribution of $65 million to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program, which serves lower-income children in Florida.
The donation was announced during RNDC’s state sales meeting, held on a soundstage at Universal Studios Orlando.
RNDC’s donation will allow more than 9,940 K-12 students to attend the school of their choice through Florida Tax Credit scholarships for the 2017-18 school year.
“Making a difference in the life of a student, their family and our community makes us very proud. For many students, having the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their learning needs can propel them on a path toward a better future,” said RNDC Executive Vice President Ron Barcena. “We’re proud to support Florida schoolchildren through the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.”
This is the sixth consecutive year RNDC has contributed to the nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged schoolchildren. The program is funded with tax-credited donations and allows parents and schoolchildren to choose between a K-12 scholarship that helps with private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.
“Step Up For Students allows lower-income families the opportunity to attend schools they might not otherwise be able to afford. But we couldn’t do this without the support and generosity of our donors,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “Since 2012, RNDC has contributed $180 million, providing more than 30,665 scholarships. On behalf of Step Up and the families we serve, we thank you for your continued commitment and generosity.”
Step Up scholarship graduate Orlando Rivera and his mother Deborah DeJesus attended the event to share their story with the RNDC associates. During his junior year of high school, Orlando’s grades had dropped to nearly failing. With help from a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Orlando was able to change schools and attend Heritage Christian School in Kissimmee.
“Going to Heritage turned my life around,” said Orlando. “Today, I’m a freshman at Embry-Riddle, studying aeronautical science on the airline pilot specialty track. I’d like to thank Step Up For Students and donors like RNDC for making this possible.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for kindergarten through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade, and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Paul Soost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By PAUL SOOST
BAKER, FL – Seaside Engineering and Surveying, LLC., a provider of professional surveying and civil engineering services, on Feb. 5 announced a $20,000 contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program for the 2017-18 school year, bringing the company’s total to $35,000 since 2016.
This marks the second year Seaside Engineering and Surveying has supported the scholarship program.
“Seaside Engineering and Surveying is proud to partner with Step Up For Students, and know that our contributions are helping local families send their children to schools that best fit their children’s learning needs,” said Seaside President John Gustin. “We’re excited to welcome Denise Bowers, Crestview Campus Principal from Rocky Bayou Christian School today. Rocky Bayou is a local private school that participates in the Step Up scholarship program.”
Rocky Bayou Christian School is one of more than 1,700 private schools participating in the scholarship program statewide. Rocky Bayou has been listed as the fourth best private elementary school in the U.S. by TheBestSchools.org.
“At Rocky Bayou, we encourage our students to conduct every aspect of their life with integrity, honesty, humility and love, traits consistent with the team members of Seaside,” said Bowers. “On behalf of Rocky Bayou Christian School, we’d like to thank Seaside Engineering and Surveying, as well as Step Up For Students, for their commitment to creating educational opportunities and for helping families in our community.”
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged Florida schoolchildren. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations and allows parents and students to choose between a K-12 scholarship to support private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.
“Thanks to the generosity of companies like Seaside Engineering and Surveying, more Florida families have the opportunity to choose schools befitting of their child’s learning needs,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “We are grateful to Seaside for their contribution, and to its employees’ efforts to improve the lives of people living in their communities.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up $6,343 per student for K through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade.
Paul Soost can be reached at email@example.com.
By JEFF BARLIS
At Seven Rivers Christian School in Lecanto, there’s a list of core values for students. Among them: Do hard things.
Maloni Lewis knows it. She’s lived it.
With two disabled parents and three older brothers in and out of jail, Maloni grew up in extreme poverty. Their community in nearby Crystal River, with its run-down homes and overgrown yards, was full of hopeless people.
Devastated by the path her sons had taken, mom Renée had an unyielding determination to chart a different course for Maloni. A tall, broad-shouldered woman, she made a school-choice scholarship the ticket to a better life.
“We went through a lot of trauma,” Renée said after a pause, her eyes welled up with tears. “But I told Maloni, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s where you’re at.”
Like her brothers, Maloni struggled in third grade at her neighborhood school. Her reading, writing and math grades were poor. Other than her trademark mane of meticulous braids, she wasn’t herself. The playful smile, the one mom said “has diamonds in it,” was missing.
Renée had seen this before. Her boys were bright and talented, but they came home from school explaining how it wasn’t cool to be smart. They were made fun of for speaking proper English. Bad friends led to bad choices. Going to jail, Renée said, was a virus that tore through the family.
Maloni would be different.
Through a local nonprofit organization, Renée found out about Seven Rivers and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program that would make paying the tuition possible. She applied through Step Up For Students.
Formerly a certified nursing assistant who worked late hours and double shifts to make ends meet, Renée went on disability after she was injured in a fall. She also has kidney and heart problems that cause frequent hospitalizations.
After her injury, husband Donald went on partial disability due to worsening asthma. Money became a problem. Power and water were hard to keep on.
It was all a blur to Maloni. Until Seven Rivers.
Her first memory of the school is from age 9, when teachers, staff and parents came to help her family move. The Lewis home had been deemed uninhabitable, and they needed help moving to Maloni’s grandparents’ house.
“They’ve always been family to us,” Maloni said of the school.
Nestled along a rolling hillside dotted with oaks and pines, the school’s rusticated concrete-block buildings are modern and clean. For Maloni, the people inside made all the difference.
Chief among them was resource coordinator Donna Nelson, a wiry, fiery, caring woman who is now the school’s director of admissions. She became a mentor to Maloni and a close friend of the family.
“My secret angel,” Renée said.
Nelson’s job was to work with struggling kids, and she spoke frequently with Renée about Maloni’s strengths, weaknesses and direction. They plotted a course to help Maloni catch up in an academic environment that was far more rigorous than her previous school.
“At first I thought she was mean,” Maloni said. “But she wasn’t. She’s just passionate. She wants people to learn. She wants to help you.”
Maloni turned to Nelson in and out of school. If she needed tutoring or was hungry, Nelson was there. Sometimes when Renée was in the hospital, it was Nelson who broke the news to Maloni and offered rides and a place to stay.
“She loves her,” Renée said. “And I just wish for other families to have that. It’s so huge.”
Even with Nelson and Renée pushing, it took years to get Maloni on track in the classroom. Math was a stubborn nemesis, and she was plagued by doubts. I shouldn’t be here. Maybe college isn’t for me.
But her teachers never gave up. Maloni’s support structures grew to include year-round sports – volleyball, basketball and track.
After being a student who put forth a minimal effort, Maloni found a passion for learning and hit her stride in high school. Her GPA went from 2.4 as a freshman to 3.8 as a senior. She even conquered math.
With graduation looming in the spring of 2017, Maloni applied and got accepted to a small college in Pennsylvania.
“She wanted to go as far away from her community as possible,” Nelson said.
The school offered some scholarship money. But it wasn’t enough, so Maloni decided to go to the College of Central Florida in Ocala.
She recently finished her first semester with mostly A’s. Her plan is to get an associate’s degree, then transfer to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. The dream is to become a nurse like her mom and travel the world.
So much of her success is owed to Seven Rivers.
“I’m overly prepared,” she said. “Freshman year is supposed to be hard, but it’s really easy. It makes me realize I’ve been educated properly.”
From the moment her daughter graduated high school, Renée was “on a cloud.” She felt a sense of peace, perspective, and gratitude for the scholarship that made Seven Rivers possible.
“Step Up For Students is a lifeline,” she said. “It allows kids and families to dream. What they thought was so far out of reach is possible.”
Maloni knows. She’s lived it.
About Seven Rivers Christian School
Founded in 1988, the school is affiliated with Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church. It is accredited by Christian Schools of Florida, the National Council for Private School Accreditation, and AdvancEd. The school serves 502 K-12 students, including 126 on Step Up For Students scholarships. The curriculum has an emphasis on college prep and includes honors, Advanced Placement, and dual enrollment courses in high school. The school administers the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test three times a year. Tuition rang
Reach Jeff Barlis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By PAUL SOOST
EverBank, a division of TIAA, FSB, today announced a $1.5 million contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program. The donation will fund about 229 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year.
This marks the 14th year EverBank has supported the scholarship program. Since teaming with Step Up in 2004, the company has contributed more than $14.5 million, the equivalent of 3,050 scholarships.
“EverBank is proud to support the dedicated work of Step Up For Students through our contributions to the scholarship program. Providing opportunities for lower-income Florida families to find the right learning environment for their children will lead to avenues to a brighter tomorrow,” said TIAA, FSB, Vice President and CRA Officer, Joseph Hernandez “We believe this relationship will continue our efforts to inspire hope and empower change in the communities in which we work and live.”
The announcement was made at St. Matthew’s Catholic School in Jacksonville, which serves prekindergarten through eighth grade students. Nearly 40 percent of its 225 students use Step Up For Student scholarships.
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged Florida schoolchildren. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations and allows parents and students to choose between a K-12 scholarship to support private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.
“EverBank has been a longtime supporter of Step Up For Students in providing options for lower-income Florida families to find the environment that best meets their child’s learning needs. We appreciate and applaud their commitment and contributions,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “On behalf of Step Up and the students participating in our program, we thank EverBank for their generosity.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up $6,343 per student for K through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
Reach Paul Soost at email@example.com.
By JEFF BARLIS
Demetria Hutley-Johnson can laugh about it now, but not long ago her daughter, De’Asia Waters, was having such a hard time in school she tried to hide her grades.
“I used to have to search her backpack,” Demetria said. “She’s sneaky. Their tests and quizzes have to be signed by parents. She knew about it. She just wouldn’t give them to me. Now she does.”
De’Asia, 16, laughs about it, too. She’s proud of her grades now. There’s no more hiding, because her troubles are behind her.
The struggles began in third grade at her neighborhood school in Quincy, about a half-hour northwest of Tallahassee.
“I just felt like she was being left behind,” said Demetria, a licensed practical nurse since 2013. “She had a substitute teacher all the way through December. She didn’t get her real teacher until they came back from their winter break in January.”
De’Asia’s grades fell from A’s to F’s, as mom grew increasingly frustrated.
After frequent visits to the school and many conversations with school officials, Demetria decided she needed to explore other options. She started calling private schools and found out about the Step Up For Students scholarship, which helps parents of lower-income K-12 students pay tuition.
Thanks to the scholarship, Demetria was able to steer her daughter’s academic journey back towards a happy ending.
It didn’t happen immediately. De’Asia’s poor grades required her to repeat fourth grade at the first private school she and her mom chose. The retention was supposed to help, but her troubles continued. After De’Asia spent fifth grade working at her own pace in a computer-based curriculum, her mom decided for a second time to seek a better fit.
A teacher suggested Masters Preparatory Christian Academy in nearby Havana. There, De’Asia’s grades began to stabilize in the sixth grade, thanks to small classes, one-on-one attention, and support from her teachers.
“After she was retained, she wasn’t motivated about school,” Demetria said. “She was sheltered, quiet, not enthusiastic. After (Masters Prep) did their magic, she’s like a totally different person.”
Said De’Asia: “It was different right away. It was the teachers. My teacher, Ms. Lovett, never gave up on me. They will actually keep me in the room until I finish my work, until I get it.”
Rhonda Lovett worked with De’Asia both in class and after class. De’Asia worked at home, too.
The girl who once hid her school work was starting to thrive.
“She was behind a little bit, but she worked hard,” Lovett said. “The most important thing was her mom. All I was was just her mom at school. Whatever her mom did at home, I was doing the same thing at school.”
De’Asia’s grades jumped from C’s and D’s in sixth grade to A’s and B’s in seventh grade. Her GPA rose from 2.19 to 4.08.
“Her whole attitude toward school changed,” Demetria said. “She finally started talking about college. I had never heard her talk about college before.”
Now a ninth-grader, De’Asia is excited about the future.
“It’s kind of a new thing,” she said. “I’d never thought about going to college, but now I do.”
About Masters Preparatory Christian Academy
The non-denominational Christian school serves a wide range of students, from developmentally delayed to gifted. Thirty-six students – including 18 on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students – attend kindergarten through eighth grade. Parents are required to sign an enrollment contract and commit to be involved in the education process. After a pre-enrollment interview, new students in grades 3-8 take an entrance assessment that tests reading, language arts, and math on the last grade level completed. The school uses the TerraNova Test. It uses the A Beka Book curriculum for reading and language arts in grades 3-5, the Saxon program for all math instruction, and Alpha-Omega programs for all other course work. Tuition is $6,920 a year.
Jeff Barlis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.