Category Archives for Today’s Lesson

Read! Read! Read!


Kids Who Read Beat Summer Slide. Studies show that access to books during the summer prevents a drastic loss in reading skill - especially for kids in need. (PRNewsFoto/First Book)

today's lesson snipIf 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 on books

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.

5fingerNext, 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. 

Step Up announces new chat feature for its website


The red chat button pops up on the Step Up For Students website on every page when a chat agent is available. In the first week, more than 1,500 chat sessions were handled.

The red chat button pops up on the Step Up For Students website on every page when a chat agent is available. In the first week, more than 1,500 chat sessions were handled.

Step Up For Students is proud to announce the addition of another customer service option to our families, schools and providers. Customers who cannot or prefer not to reach for the phone can get real-time answers to many questions via our new online chat service.  Our customers can access this feature via our website or through the online portal.

The new E-Services group has been in development for several months, and is a way to give our customers an additional tool to communicate with someone at Step Up. It has been thoroughly researched and tested to ensure ease of use for our customers. In addition, we have tested the reliability and security to offer a safe and delightful online experience.

Michael Jacobson, Step Up's E-Services manager, recently demonstrated the new chat function to Step Up staff.

Michael Jacobson, Step Up’s E-Services manager, recently demonstrated the new chat function to Step Up staff.

Whenever customers are on our website at, they will see a red “chat” button on any page when a chat agent is available to assist.  When customers click the chat button, they’ll be connected to one of our highly trained E-Service agents. A chat agent can assist with general questions, troubleshooting, application or login concerns, and more. It even allows customers the chance to voice their opinions, as each chat will end with a chance for them to rate the experience and leave any additional comments about their online service experience.

Currently, the online chat service is available during normal business hours. Future enhancements are in the works.

The E-Services group, made up of 3 staff members, is also handling all email inquiries that are sent to We are aiming to shorten our response rate for emails to be within 24 business hours.

“We are very excited to offer this new service to serve our scholarship families and applicants,” said Gina Lynch, senior director of operations and organizational improvement. “We are continuously looking to make customers service enhancements as needed. This is just one more way to connect with our customers and make their experience with Step Up as easy and as pleasant as possible.”

In the first week of operation, the E-service members handled over 1,500 chat sessions. And so far the response from our customers has been great, noted Lynch.

“Having a chat session gave me the basic answers to my questions quickly,” said one customer. “If I had had this last year, I would have applied then. This is super helpful!”

Michael Jacobson has been with Step Up For Students for five years and is our E-Services manager based in Jacksonville. His wife, Amanda Jacobson, also works for Step Up as an Enrollment Specialist, servicing our schools. Michael is an author, a musician, and has published a movie review website for 16 years.




Green goblins, teal pumpkins and safety tips: It must be Halloween

By Lisa A. Davis

today's lesson snipGoblins, witches and ghosts OH MY! Yes, it’s that time of year again when adults and kids alike can be someone or something different and make a grand show of it without getting any sideways looks. Halloween is surely fun, but we all know we have to think about safety first when it comes to trick-or-treating.

Most families still go door-to-door in their neighborhoods in search of the best candy feast of the year. But there are safer alternatives to be on the lookout for such as church events, businesses that offer in-store trick-or-treating, and even some malls. Trunk-or-treat events have become more popular in recent years, too.

With food allergies on the rise, the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) launched a national campaign last year that is gaining popularity: The Teal Pumpkin Project. The idea is to raise awareness of food allergies, which can be life-threatening, and allow children affected by them to still participate and enjoy Halloween. The campaign encourages families to offer non-food treats for trick-or-treaters and to paint a pumpkin teal so trick-or-treaters know the house they are approaching is participating. For more information check out: Teal Pumpkin Project

The Food Allergy, Research & Education (FARE) launched the Teal Pumpkin Project in 2014. Photo credit: FARE

The Food Allergy, Research & Education (FARE) launched the Teal Pumpkin Project in 2014. Photo credit: FARE

No matter what you do, keep safety in mind. We offer these tips from Tampa Police to help guide you:

Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters: 

  • Be part of a group and do not stray from the group. There is safety in numbers.
  • Do not enter the home of a stranger.
  • Never accept rides from strangers.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street and cross when the pedestrian crosswalk light signals you to walk.
  • Carry flashlights or glow sticks so you can be easily seen.
  • Do not take shortcuts through back yards, parks or alleys.
  • Be alert, have fun but do not let your guard down.

Safety Tips for the House:

  • Keep a porch light on so trick-or-treaters will know to visit and can see where they are walking.
  • Remove yard clutter that trick-or-treaters may trip over.
  • Secure your pets to protect them and your visitors.
  • Use battery-powered Jack-O-Lanterns instead of ones with candles.  If you do use candles, make sure they are far enough out of the way so that kids’ costumes won’t accidentally catch fire.
  • Avoid giving homemade treats.  Responsible parents do not allow their children to eat treats unless they know who made them.

Safety Tips for Parents:

  • Young children should be accompanied by an adult.
  • Kids always want to help with pumpkin carving.  Small children should not be allowed to use a sharp knife to cut the top or the face.  There are many kits available that come with tiny saws that work better than knives and they are also safer, although you can be cut by these small saws as well.  It is best to let the kids clean out the pumpkin and draw a face on the front, which you can carve for them.
  • Check your child’s candy before they consume it.  Anything suspicious should be discarded!
  • Feed your children before they set out.  This should help discourage them from trying their treats before you are able to check them.
  • Know where your child is and whom they are with.
  • Buy flame-retardant costumes and consider using makeup rather than masks.  A mask may obscure your child’s vision.
  • Costumes should be light in color or have reflective tape put on them.
  • Costumes should be made from light materials to avoid dehydration and other heat-related issues.

Neighborhood check:

Law enforcement agencies also recommend parents check the Florida Sexual Offenders and Predator database before heading out with your children for treats. To check out your neighborhood and more, go to: Sexual Offender/Predator Search

On the site, you can enter an address and check the area around it. Know before you go!

Acknowledging Bullying Prevention Awareness Month in October and beyond

By Lisa A. Davis

today's lesson snipI don’t remember how it started, but I recall vividly how it ended. The mean girl in middle school who had been making fun of me for some time took it to the next level and tossed my gym uniform into the toilet. Of course, it was humiliating, and although I tried not to, I let her get to me and dissolved into tears right in front of her.

Bullying comes in many forms – by teasing, ignoring, spreading rumors, hurting someone emotionally or physically — but the result is often the same. The bully’s target may be afraid to go to school (or wherever it occurred), is embarrassed and their self-confidence shattered. In many cases, the child even becomes depressed.

While I don’t remember all that happened after that incident with me all those years ago, I know it was the last time that girl ever bullied me. And I also know that moment made me realize how much another person’s actions – bad or good – can significantly affect you for years to come. I would like to think my situation made me a more compassionate person as the years went on.

At Step Up For Students, we have shared stories about students being bullied and parents seeking school alternatives for their children. Here are a couple from over the years: and

Bullying can happen anywhere, even online, at any time, and at any age. It’s something that has become such a major social issue, that October of each year is set aside for National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Nearly a decade old, Bullying Prevention Awareness month was started by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

To get an idea of what bullying is, here’s the definition, a website managed through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services gives:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious lingering problems.Anti_Bullying

The troubling thing is, many of us have experience bullying in some form.

Here are some stats compiled by STOMP Out Bullying, a leading national bullying and cyberbullying prevention organization for kids and teens:

  • 1 out of 4 kids are bullied
  • 43 percent of kids have been bullied while online
  • 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month
  • 1 out of 5 kids admit to being bullied or doing some “bullying.”

How do you stop bullying? Experts agree that awareness, like for most things, is the key to prevention.

“When you see someone being bullied, be brave and STAND UP for them,” states STOMP Out Bullying’s website. “Bullies have been known to back off when others stand up for victims. If you don’t feel safe get the help of an adult immediately. Be part of the solution — not the problem!”

And finally, the last week of October, students can participate by spreading anti-bullying messages in various ways, including handing out positive messages on Post-it notes, creating anti-bullying videos, sharing inspirational stories and more.

While the month of October is set aside to bring awareness, of course, it is the hope that the efforts continue year-round.

Additional resources:


Stop Bullying 

STOMP Bullying



Proudly alternative and pro school choice

Editor’s note: This story originally ran Sept. 29, 2015 on the redefinED blog, which is hosted by Step Up For Students, and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education. This post is part of redefinED’s Voucher Left servies redefinED  exploring he diverse roots of school choice

By Ron Matus

today's lesson snipIf the Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm Harbor, Fla. is part of a right-wing plot, it’s good at hiding it. Its students cultivate a “food forest.” Its teachers encourage them to stomp in puddles. Its parents sign a consent form that says, I give permission for my child, named above, to climb trees on the school grounds …

And yet, the unassuming, apolitical little school is solidly school choice. Sixteen of its 60 students in grades K-8 last year used tax credit scholarships to help defray the $10,000 annual tuition. And to those familiar with the century-old vision that spawned the Waldorf model – a vision whose first beneficiaries were the children of cigarette factory workers – there’s nothing unusual about it.

School choice scholarships make Waldorf “more accessible to a diverse group of families,” said Barbara Bedingfield, the school’s co-founder. “This is what we want.”

“Alternative schools” like those in the 1,000-strong Waldorf network help upend myths about choice being hard right. This small but thriving corner of the education universe is especially resistant to labels, but there is a nexus between many of these schools and ‘60s-era, counter-culture reformers like John Holt (think “unschooling”) and Paul Goodman (think “compulsory miseducation”).

“Thirty-plus years ago, school choice was almost entirely a cause of the left,” is how writer Peter Schrag described it in 2001, writing for The American Prospect. “In the heady days of the 1960s, radical reformers looked toward the open, child-centered schools that critics like Herb Kohl, Jules Henry, Edgar Friedenberg, Paul Goodman, and John Holt dreamed about. Implicitly, their argument had the advantage of celebrating American diversity and thus obviating our chronic doctrinal disputes about what schools should or shouldn’t teach.”

Then and now, the contrarian outlooks of this species of ed reformer are often libertarian and left, both embracing of “progressive” goals and distrustful of government’s ability to deliver. Generally speaking, they aren’t fond of government-dictated standards, testing, grading, grade-level configurations or anything else subject to imposed uniformity. But they are willing to consider the potential of tools like vouchers to give parents the power to choose schools that synch with their values.

Suncoast Waldorf sits on two acres of live oaks, a leafy oasis off a busy road in Florida’s most urbanized county. It blossomed 17 years ago, just as the Sunshine State began blazing trails on the school choice frontier.

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, Suncoast Waldorf and other Waldorf schools emphasize art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. They like to have fun too. (Photo courtesy of Suncoast Waldorf.)

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, Suncoast Waldorf and other Waldorf schools emphasize art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. They like to have fun too. (Photo courtesy of Suncoast Waldorf.)

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, it emphasizes art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. Standardized testing is out (except for what’s required by state law for the scholarship program). So are letter grades and iPads. So is Common Core.

On the flip side, here’s what’s in: Classical mythology and religious studies. Musical instruments and foreign languages. And recess, twice a day. Teachers “loop” with the same students from first to fifth grade. Subjects are taught in 4-to-6 week blocks. Class sizes average 10.

“When we say we want to educate the whole child, we mean it,” Bedingfield said.

Like her school, Bedingfield is tough to label. She taught in public schools and in the Peace Corps, but left teaching to sell transistors and integrated circuits. She didn’t stumble on Waldorf until later in life, but was so smitten she underwent specialized Waldorf training at the age of 53.

Plenty of parents fall for Waldorf, too, with diverse backgrounds and myriad motivations. e parent who uses tax credit scholarships to send her two children to the school said they were previously enrolled in public schools, including one with a highly regarded IB program. She liked the rigor, but hated the pacing, fearing her kids would “burn out.” Another parent of a scholarship student said her neighborhood public school put her daughter, then struggling with reading in kindergarten, into a class for students with behavioral problems. She didn’t think Waldorf was possible until a Catholic school told her about the tax credit scholarship. “I don’t see any political agenda to it,” she said about choice. “You just want the best for your kid.”

Government-supported choice carries tensions for many private schools, and alternative schools are no exception. In a 2009 report, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America said the growing number of voucher and tax credit scholarship programs could “inaugurate a new era of educational freedom”— unless they came with too many regulatory strings.

“Such school choice legislation would then be an instrument to create an oppressive uniform national education system controlled by the state and federal governments,” the report said, “which in turn are heavily influenced by major corporate interests.”

For now, in Waldorf’s view, the pros outweigh the cons. And in states like Florida, with thriving school choice programs, parents are grateful.

Melissa Manning, whose 8-year-old daughter Kiraskye uses a tax credit scholarship at Suncoast Waldorf, described her politics as “extremely left.” She’s vegan, works at a grocery called the Nature’s Food Patch and has never owned a TV. She said she appreciated that Suncoast Waldorf is “nurturing” and “one big family” and that Kiraskye is learning practical skills like growing and cooking her own food.

Maybe that isn’t what some parents want for their child, Manning said. But it’s what she wants for hers.

“We have to honor the fact,” she said, “that people are different.”

The Suncoast Waldorf was also featured Step Up For Students’  2012-13 annual report. Click on the link and go to pages 26 and 27.





A lesson in history: Labor Day

By Lisa A. Davis

today's lesson snipThe modern Labor Day has long been associated with the official end of summer, and it wasn’t so long ago that most schools, public and private and those in between, waited until this holiday passed before opening the doors to another school year. Now, most of us know it as the first Monday off from what has been a very short school year so far.

It’s a day of backyard barbecues, family gatherings, trips to the beach and yes, another reason for retailers of many kinds to have a big sale. But what many people don’t know is the history behind the day celebrated the first Monday of September year after year. The funny thing is the first Labor Day was actually celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, but that changed two years later. After all, we certainly like those long holiday weekends

So here are some helpful links to learn a bit more about the history of Labor Day:

History of Labor Day by the U.S. Department of Labor

Time For Kids History of Labor Day

History Channel’s Labor Day Video

New York Post: The evolution of Labor Day — and of American labor

Happy reading and Happy Labor Day! Be safe, everyone!






Plenty of sleep + good nutrition = energetic and alert student

today's lesson snipBy Ashley Foster, Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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

5 Breakfast ideas:

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Sources and for more information visit:

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