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Category Archives for Reading Scholarships

CDW Helps Provide Technology Resources and Digital Equity to Step Up For Students

CDW has partnered with Step Up For Students to help provide technology resources and digital equity for recipients of Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities, and the Reading Scholarship program.

“At CDW, we understand how important it is for students to have access to the technology resources they need to be successful in school,” said Taylor Amerman, CDW Global Social Impact. “Our partnership with Step Up For Students, in support of Florida school children, is just one of the many ways we are committed to digital equity, and we are thrilled to see all the amazing work this organization has accomplished through our collaboration. CDW’s global social impact strategy is focused on empowering learners to reach their unlimited potential through technology, and our purpose is to make technology work so people – just like these amazing students – can do great things.” 

Through this partnership with CDW, families throughout Florida have been able to access technology resources, including devices and educational apps, that are necessary for their children to thrive in school.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities and the Reading Scholarship are managed by Step Up For Students. The scholarships allow students to pursue and access educational support designed to help them achieve their academic goals.

The Reading Scholarship was created to help young public school students who have difficulty reading. The causes of reading challenges are often varied and complex, but many times digital tools can provide alternative teaching methods that can help students overcome their struggles.

Samantha’s reading scores have improved, and her love of reading has increased
with the help of the Reading Scholarship and access to digital resources.

Students like Samantha, who is just one of many young scholars who have learned to love reading because of the Reading Scholarship. Samantha grew up being read to by her mom, Lindsey, so it was surprising when Samantha didn’t enjoy reading.

When she was in the third grade Samantha received a low score on the English Language Arts section of the Florida Standards Assessments, which made her eligible for the Reading Scholarship. With this scholarship, Lindsey purchased an iPad and downloaded the Epic! app.

Epic! provides digital books and videos for children 12 and under. It suggests books based on what the child is reading and tracks their progress for the parents. It also has educational features.

“Epic! makes it easier for me to read, because if I don’t know what a word is, I can tap on it, and the app will sound it out,” said Samantha, now a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Imagine School Lakewood Ranch, a charter school in Manatee County.

As a result of CDW’s support, even more students like Samantha will continue to have access to the digital resources they need to help them achieve academic success. In addition to this partnership, CDW also provides Step Up For Students with philanthropic contributions.

“We are grateful to have CDW as a partner,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “Technology has become a critical tool in supporting our students, and CDW’s investment in our school community means that even more of these young children will have access to the resources they need as they advance and learn.”

Step Up For Students celebrates 20 years of providing Families Choices

Florida’s largest nonprofit scholarship administrator is celebrating its 20th anniversary of providing families more options in their children’s education.

Step Up For Students, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Jacksonville and St. Petersburg, has awarded more than 1 million scholarships since it was founded in 2002. Today, Step Up administers five of the state’s K-12 scholarship programs: the donor-supported Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) and the taxpayer-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO), for low- and middle-income students; the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA, formerly Gardiner); the Reading Scholarship for public school students in grades 3-5 with low reading test scores; and the Hope Scholarship for bullied students.

Denisha Merriweather, who used a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship to attend a private school, is a testament to the power of education choice.

Step Up currently serves more than 170,000 students, most of them lower-income or with special needs. The scholarships empower their families to access the learning options that work best for their children so they can maximize their potential.

“As I reflect upon the last 20 years, I want to thank all the legislators, educators and donors who made this program and this movement possible,” said John Kirtley, chairman and founder of Step Up for Students. “As important, I want to thank the families who were empowered by the scholarships to give their students the chance to find an educational environment that best suited their individual needs.”

Florida has witnessed a sea change in education over the last 20 years. Once languishing at the bottom, Florida has skyrocketed to No. 3 in the nation in K-12 achievement, according to Education Week. With a focus on matching the child to the right education environment, Florida created a variety of educational options, including Step Up’s scholarships, to meet the needs of students. Today, almost half of the state’s 3.6 million students attend schools other than their assigned neighborhood school.

Scholarship students, and the private schools serving them, have played a role in the state’s educational success.

An Urban Institute analysis of the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship found recipients were shown to be up to 99% more likely to attend four-year colleges, and 45% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees, than like students in public schools.

“Parents are increasingly insisting on a public education system that is able to provide each child with an effective and efficient customized education,” Step Up President Doug Tuthill said. “Helping parents achieve this vision for the last 20 years has been an honor and a privilege. The next 20 years are really going to be amazing.”

Denisha Merriweather is a testament to the power of education choice.

The daughter of a teenaged mom and high school dropout, raised in poverty, Denisha thought she was destined for a similar path. Receiving a scholarship from Step Up For Students changed her life.

Denisha had been a troubled student who was held back twice at her assigned public schools. But when she went to live with her godmother in sixth grade, her guardian applied for and received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. That allowed Denisha to afford tuition at the private school of her choice, Esprit de Corps Center of Learning in Jacksonville, where she blossomed.

Denisha went on to graduate with honors, earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida and a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Florida. From there she served as School Choice and Youth Liaison to the Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education. In 2020 she founded Black Minds Matter, an organization devoted to promoting the development of high-quality school options for Black students. Recently she became the first scholarship student alumnus to serve as a member of Step Up’s Board of Directors.

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

For more information about the scholarship programs, or for help arranging an interview with a scholarship family, contact Scott Kent, assistant director of strategic communications, at 727-451-9832 or skent@sufs.org, or visit www.StepUpForStudents.org.

Reading grades improve, love of books grows with the help of Florida’s Reading Scholarship

BY ROGER MOONEY

Lindsey Pawlishen was so confident she would pass her love of reading to her daughter that she asked for and received children’s books instead of traditional gifts at the baby shower.

She began reading to Samantha when Samantha was an infant expecting to instill that love of reading.

But Samantha didn’t love reading.

“I didn’t understand it,” Lindsey said, “because everybody said if you read to your kids as soon as they are born, they’re going to be readers, but that didn’t work.”

It would turn out that Samantha’s lack of interest had something to do with the fact she struggled to read. She scored low on the English Language Arts (ELA) section of the Florida Standards Assessments as a third grader during the 2020-21 school year. That made her eligible for Florida’s Reading Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students.

Samantha’s reading scores have improved and her love of reading has increased with the help of the Reading Scholarship.

The scholarship was created to help public school students in third through fifth grade who struggle with reading. Those who scored a 1 or 2 on the third- or fourth-grade ELA section of the Florida Standards Assessments in the prior year are eligible.

The program offers parents access to Education Savings Accounts, worth $500 each, to pay for tuition and fees for approved part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials and curriculum related to reading or literacy.

Lindsey was told about the scholarship from the principal at Samantha’s school. She applied for the scholarship last summer and was accepted. She used the funds to buy an iPad and downloaded the Epic! app.

Epic! provides digital books and videos for children 12 and under. It suggests books based on what the child is reading and tracks their progress for the parents. It also has educational features.

“It makes it easier for me to read, because if I don’t know what a word is, I can tap on it, and it will sound it out,” said Samantha, 9, a fourth-grader at Imagine School Lakewood Ranch, a charter school in Manatee County.

Samantha is still a grade level below in reading, but she is gaining ground. An A student in her other classes, she has raised her grade this year in literature to a B. Lindsey said she will gladly take that. It’s much better than seeing her daughter feel what she described as “defeated.”

“I was sad for her, because she was getting frustrated, not understanding why she wasn’t picking up reading,” Lindsey said. “I couldn’t figure out how to help her. I felt bad she wasn’t picking up.”

Samantha used to roll her eyes when her mother told her about the adventures she could have by simply reading a book. Now, Samantha goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, having discovered the Harry Potter series. She also loves The Baby-Sitters Club series.

Samantha plays defense on a travel ice hockey team, practicing twice a week at a rink an hour north of the family’s home in Palmetto. It makes Lindsey happy to see her daughter with her nose in a book during the long rides to and from games and practices.

When asked what it was like to read before she received the Reading Scholarship, Samantha said, “It was a little bit hard.”

Now, “it’s finally clicking,” Lindsey said. “That is nice to see, because I was always in a book when I was a kid.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at rmooney@sufs.org.

Florida Reading Scholarship program helps twins stay on pace and excel in middle school

BY LISA BUIE

TAMPA – Since they were babies, Darnell Taylor’s identical twin daughters, Janae, and Sasha, have loved books.

First, picture books, then chapter books.

Now, the 12-year-olds are finding novels on BookTok, the bookish community on TikTok, where people post videos recommending books, make pithy observations about reading, and share their love of literature. Some selections include “Red, White & Royal Blue,” “Ugly Love,” and “The Invisible Life.”

Taylor couldn’t be more pleased.

“They can travel the world with books,” said the UPS employee, who works from her home in a northern suburb of Tampa. “Their English teacher loves that they love to read.”

Though avid readers who were bringing home great grades on classwork and report cards, one of the Taylor twins — Mom won’t say which one — scored just one point shy passing the state’s standardized English and Language Arts test in elementary school.

The result surprised Taylor, who had seen nothing to indicate either of her girls were not on grade level. She immediately began searching for resources and found the Step Up For Students website, where she learned about and applied for the Reading Scholarship Accounts program.

Identical twins Janae Taylor, left, and Sasha Taylor, who attend Union Park Charter Academy north of Tampa, both have benefited from the family’s participation in the Florida Reading Scholarship Accounts program.

“I went into mommy drive,” said Taylor, who has been heavily involved her children’s education since their pre-kindergarten days. “Teachers have a lot of students, so my goal was to fill the gap.”

Fill it she did, with tutoring programs offered by her daughters’ district school and a Lenovo laptop she bought with Reading Scholarship funds. The twin who was one point off course was able to access Reading Plus, an online literacy program that improves fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary, and provides motivation to read.

The combined efforts helped her raise her scores and allowed her to move up to fourth grade with her twin. An unexpected but welcome benefit was that her twin was able to further boost her reading skills.

Each scholarship is worth $500 per student and is available to public school students in grades 3-5 who score below a Level 3 on the standardized English Language Arts test in the prior school year. Florida law requires a passing grade on the standardized test for promotion to fourth grade.

Research shows that as textbook material gets more complex, students who are still struggling in reading get further behind. A long-term study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are proficient.

With 1,177 scholarships awarded so far this year, the Reading Scholarship Accounts program has been rising in popularity as families seek to make up learning losses that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. To offer additional assistance, the Florida Legislature last year approved the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a $270 million literacy program that delivers one free book per month to traditional district and charter school students in kindergarten through fifth grade who are reading below grade level.

Today, Janae, and Sasha, who weighed just 3 pounds at birth, are excelling at their STEM charter school. They are on the honor roll and taking honors algebra. Janae hopes to one day work in theater, and Sasha dreams of becoming an astronaut.

As twins, they can be competitive when it comes to schoolwork, Taylor said, but she takes that in stride, because they also help each other. The family’s Reading Scholarship Account has provided an excellent opportunity for them to do just that.

Lisa Buie is a senior writer at reimaginEDonline.org.