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Scholarship gives strength to bullied student

By DAVID TUTHILL

Jacob Monastra came home from school in tears every day.

He struggled in class and was often bullied, practically from the day he started first grade.

“Our hearts were heavy watching our bright little boy’s self-esteem erode before my eyes,” said Lynn Lambo, Jacob’s grandmother and guardian. “He called himself the worst kid in school and thought he was so dumb.”

He had always seemed to toil developmentally and barely spoke until he was 3.

Jacob, a student at New Generation School in Live Oak, is especially fond of teacher Charlene Redish, who has helped him overcome shyness, issues with self-confidence and academic concerns.

During his third grading period of first grade at his neighborhood school in St. Petersburg, Florida, Jacob was a candidate to be held back for a year. Lambo dealt with that as she and husband Daniel began the process of moving with Jacob to Live Oak, a more rural area east of Tallahassee.

Prior to the move, Lambo briefly enrolled Jacob at a learning center in St. Petersburg for additional help. The one on one attention he received enabled him to enter second grade at Suwannee Elementary School in Live Oak, where his teacher was Charlene Redish.

“Jacob came into my classroom very shy and withdrawn,” Redish said. “He was in desperate need of confidence, because of his academic struggles and because of bullying. He would cry easily and didn’t trust anything around him. We had to fight for him so hard.”

While Jacob’s academic struggles continued, he made strides socially. When a disruptive student was new to Redish’s classroom, Jacob befriended him, even teaching him how to share, Redish said. As a form of reciprocation, the other boy helped protect Jacob from bullies.

But Jacob’s academic issues could not be ignored. He passed second grade – with great effort – but continued to struggle in third grade with a new teacher. In November 2016, Redish, a teacher Jacob had grown to admire and trust and still saw every morning before school, left Suwannee Elementary for a job at a private school.

That left Jacob with a new teacher – and more of the same issues.

By January 2017, Lambo was again told her grandson might be held back.

“I was shocked,” she said. “The school year wasn’t even half over, and I didn’t understand how they could tell me that.”

Fortunately for Jacob, help came from a familiar source.

Charlene Redish always kept tabs on Jacob and his family, and the bond between he and Redish proved too deep to break. Redish advised Lambo to send Jacob to her new school, New Generation School, also in Live Oak, for a one-week trial to see how he fit in.

The results were immediate and stunning.

“When I picked him up that (first) day, he said to me ‘This is my new school now,’” Lambo said with pride.

His grandparents quickly applied for and received the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families through Step Up For Students, and enrolled Jacob into New Generation.

With Redish as his new third-grade teacher, Jacob’s transition to the new school was practically flawless.

“It was like night and day at New Generation,” Redish says. “He picked up quickly and became a leader in my classroom.”

Almost overnight, Lambo also saw a change. The smaller class sizes and flexibility of the curriculum was just what Jacob needed.

Jacob Monastra likes digging for rocks, riding four-wheelers with his grandfather and fishing.

Once the quietest kid in a classroom, he is now well known for helping others, raising his hand frequently and almost always answering questions correctly. Every Friday, students at New Generation are released from classes early and have the option to leave at noon or stay in an after-school program until 2 p.m. But Lambo said he’s never once wanted to leave early.

“I used to have to peel him off me,” she said. “Now he’s smiling from ear to ear.”

Jacob breezed through third grade at New Generation and is now working through fourth grade, again under the tutelage of Redish. Now 9, he recently earned the New Generation Spirit Award, awarded to the student who most symbolizes integrity, kindness and the school’s purpose.

At school, Jacob and a few of his close friends often embark on playground archaeological digs, looking for rocks and pretending they are minerals.

Outside the classroom, Jacob enjoys fishing and recently caught a 13-inch crappie. He also enjoys riding a four-wheeler with his grandfather.

Jacob’s future is the brightest it has ever been.

“I am so happy they were able to get a scholarship for Jacob,” Redish said. “It was truly a blessing.”

Reach David Hudson Tuthill at dhudson@sufs.org.

 

 

Scholarship, Kingdom Academy spurred turnaround for Miami student

Eleven-year-old Henezy Berrios’ sparkling brown eyes crinkle in the corners when she smiles, which is just about all the time. She has boundless, contagious enthusiasm. She loves to dance and crack jokes.

Henezy Berrios

She’s the girl that everyone in school likes.

But you would have hardly recognized her in first grade at her neighborhood school in Miami. She was quiet and withdrawn, afraid to ask for help, made fun of because she couldn’t read.

The D’s and F’s and diagnoses of ADHD and dyslexia set off alarms for her mother, Liliana Arguello. She resolved to find a better fit for Henezy’s education, and thanks to a Step Up For Students scholarship was able to access a private school called Kingdom Academy.

There, her daughter’s fears faded as her reading skills blossomed. A different Henezy emerged.

“Her self esteem and attitude has completely changed,” Liliana said. “I was going crazy. You need reading for everything, and I was already seeing her frustration. I said this is not going to happen.”

Liliana was 15 when she got pregnant with Henezy. Now in her mid-20s, she’s a single mother of two who works two or three housekeeping jobs every day. The remaining tuition after the scholarship and other school expenses take much of her paycheck, sometimes leaving little money for food.

Stress is a persistent companion, and Liliana rarely has the time, energy or resources to be as engaged a parent as she would like. That made it all the more important to find the right school.

When Henezy stumbled in her neighborhood school, Liliana found a tutor she could barely afford who told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship. It empowers low-income families to choose from more than 1,700 private schools statewide.

Liliana applied and received a list of 10 schools near her home. In between jobs and on breaks she visited all 10, took tours and asked lots of questions before picking Kingdom Academy.

Sitting on a little lot ringed by oaks and palms, the academy building is small and filled to capacity. It’s also clean and well-lit, full of Smartboards, laptops and dedicated teachers. Including before- and after-care, Henezy is at school from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and can eat three meals a day there.

“It’s a blessing,” Liliana said.

Henezy repeated first grade at Kingdom Academy and was still below grade level in reading throughout her first year. She needed help with unfamiliar words and lacked confidence when reading aloud. But she never got down or gave up.

“We saw her effort,” said principal Elena Navarro. “She’s a very determined girl. It’s wonderful. You could see that maybe she just wasn’t being worked with before.”

By the end of her first year, Henezy was a B student overall with a C in reading. She was improving all around and letting her personality bubble forth. She worked well in small groups and connected with teachers who helped her stay focused with interactive, non-traditional lessons. They let her set a fast pace and move around instead of sitting all day.

“(My teacher) helps a lot,” said Henezy, now in fourth grade. “Sometimes she gives me extra time to do stuff. … Sometimes she puts on a song about it. Sometimes she teaches it to us in a funny way.”

Today Henezy Berrios is a bright fourth-grader with a growing aptitude and appreciation for reading.

Eventually, the new school’s approach clicked. Henezy began to love the books that were once a chore.

“I used to feel like I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I couldn’t read the words, so I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is it?!’ Now I feel like these books are amazing and I always should have read them.”

Henezy’s gains this year are stunning.

Kingdom Academy tracks student scores on the standardized Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Step Up For Students’ Office of Student Learning is supporting Kingdom Academy and a number of participating private schools to analyze MAP data to improve instruction. (Step Up For Students also publishes this blog.)

At the beginning of the year, Henezy was just below the nationwide average in reading. In December, her mid-year results showed gains that were greater than 99 percent of fourth-graders who took the test nationwide.

“I was freaking out,” said Henezy’s fourth-grade teacher, Jessica Gonzalez. “I was trying to figure out if I wrote it down wrong the first time. I had to double check everything. I even went to her teacher last year and showed her the jump. It was a huge deal for me. For her, too, obviously. Her smile just blew up when I showed her.”

Liliana cried, but that’s not uncommon these days with all of Henezy’s growth. Henezy talks often about her goals in life – a huge house, a farm, a car. She wants to buy her mom a house and a car, too.

“She’s amazing,” Liliana said. “She’s the one who motivates me and keeps me going.”

“I am so relieved to know that my child is going to have a successful life, go to college and do big things, whatever she wants to do. She’s not going to have to struggle.”

About Kingdom Academy

Founded in Miami in 1990, the non-denominational Christian school offers an emphasis on business and financial literacy. It holds family workshops to help parents understand the curriculum and improve their own financial literacy skills, and offers Rosetta Stone to those trying to learn English. The school is accredited by AdvancED and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) among others. It serves 250 students from grades K-8, including 175 on the Step Up scholarship. Elementary grades use Pearson Scott Foresman curriculum materials for core subjects, while middle school classes are aligned to local, state and national standards with an eye on career or post-secondary options. The school administers the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) as its standardized test three times a yearTuition is $7,560 for K-8.

Jeff Barlis can be reached at jbarlis@sufs.org.

Eduardo Rivero’s amazing turnaround

By GEOFF FOX

Eduardo Rivero was a sixth-grader reading at a fourth-grade level when school started last year. He was also behind in math and had trouble concentrating.

As he begins seventh grade at Kingdom Academy, a pre-K through 8 private school in Miami, the 12-year-old is reading at an eighth-grade level and thriving in math.

Jovanna Rivero with her sons Julian and Eduardo, each of whom attend Kingdom Academy in Miami.

Jovanna Rivero with her sons Julian and Eduardo, each of whom attend Kingdom Academy in Miami.

The amazing turnaround has left his mother, Jovanna Rivero, pleasantly surprised.

“I sat down with his teacher at the end of the year, and they showed me the (reading) score and, oh, my God, I was so emotional and happy,” Jovanna Rivero said. “It was like opening up a box with a surprise in it. I didn’t think it would be so good. Even the teachers and staff thought it was amazing by how much progress he made in that time.”

Besides Eduardo’s hard work, she said teacher Xiomara Carrera was instrumental in his success.

“She saw that he was falling behind in his studies and understood that he was missing the previous year’s foundational understanding of math and English,” Rivero said. “Not addressing it would cause him to spiral into a failing year. The pressure of not understanding each day’s advancing subject matter was hurting  him not only academically, but socially as well.

“When I approached the school about this, they offered to add him in Mrs. Carrera’s after-school tutoring program. Unfortunately, by the second quarter of the school year the program was already full. Mrs. Carrera took the initiative to open her schedule and some personal time to work with Eduardo. It makes me so happy to see that teachers like Mrs. Carrera are willing to work with parents and truly care for our children’s success.”

Eduardo recently entered his third year at Kingdom Academy. His mother said he previously attended a local elementary school, but while he made mostly A’s and B’s, he was not happy there.

Jovanna Rivero learned of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program through a friend whose child went to Kingdom Academy. A single mother of two who works as a medical assistant, she applied for the program for lower-income families through Step Up For Students and Eduardo was accepted.

Eduardo Rivero, a seventh-grader at Kingdom Academy in Miami, was reading on a fourth-grade level last year, but made a stunning turnaround. He is now reading at an eighth-grade level and excelling in math.

Eduardo Rivero, a seventh-grader at Kingdom Academy in Miami, was reading on a fourth-grade level last year, but made a stunning turnaround. He is now reading at an eighth-grade level and excelling in math.

While many students in the program realize academic improvements after receiving a scholarship, Eduardo was different.

“During his fifth-grade year, we noticed an odd behavior when it came to focusing on a task,” Rivero said. “Through counseling it was determined he had a mild learning disability. He was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.”

She doubts Eduardo would have gotten as much individualized attention at their neighborhood school. Her younger son Julian is now doing well as a first-grader at Kingdom Academy; he is also on the scholarship program through Step Up.

When he isn’t astounding his family and teachers with academic progress, Eduardo enjoys computer coding, video games, Minecraft and art.

“So far, I want to be animator,” he said.

“He draws characters from his imagination,” his mother said. “Whatever goes into his brain, he draws.”

She said Eduardo’s confidence has soared since his remarkable academic turnaround.

“We’re very grateful to everyone at Step Up and Kingdom Academy,” she said.

Geoff Fox can be reached at gfox@StepUpForStudents.org.

In light of her oldest son’s stunning academic turnaround, Jovanna Rivero says thank you:

 


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Thank you, donors, for helping the Crum family exercise educational options

By STEP UP FOR STUDENTS STAFF

Our scholarship families come from all backgrounds, and have different reasons for seeking out educational options for their children. Corey Crum, of the U.S. Coast Guard, and his wife, Cristina, recently talked with us about their experience with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Without Step Up For Students‘ supporters, the couple could not afford to send their daughter, first-grader Corin, to Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg, where she is comfortable and thriving.

Hear what they have to say by watching here:

 

 

Against all odds, the Famianos persevere

By DAVID TUTHILL

When others looked at Danielle and Nicholas as young children, they only saw their special challenges. But Dorothy Famiano was blinded by love.

Nicholas was born with spina bifida and must use a wheelchair. Danielle was diagnosed at age 2 with autism and cerebral palsy. Few people believed in the pair who were in foster care at the time. But Famiano, a former foster care volunteer, saw something special.

Nicholas competes in the Special Olympics and is an avid power lifter, bowler and swimmer, recently winning an assisted-swimming competition in Crystal River. He dreams of one day becoming a police officer.

Nicholas competes in the Special Olympics and is an avid power lifter, bowler and swimmer, recently winning an assisted-swimming competition in Crystal River. He dreams of one day becoming a police officer.

“Everyone told me I was wearing rose-colored glasses with these kids,” says Famiano, 56. “They talked about giving me my own psych examination, because no one else could even begin to see what I saw and feel what I felt for these kids.”

Faminano, a freelance photojournalist who lives in Spring Hill, tuned out the noise and followed her heart. She adopted Nicholas and Danielle, now 16 and 14, respectively, as toddlers. A single mother of two grown biological children, she now spends her days homeschooling Nicholas and Danielle, as well as a third adopted son with severe dyslexia.

Their journey has been marked by difficulty, patience, love and triumph. Nicholas and Danielle both spent years in public school, which was not ideal for them.

“Public school did not work for my children. There was no place to put them,” said Famiano, also a grandmother of five.

Nicholas was placed in secured classrooms full of students with severe behavioral issues. It was not a practical solution.

“Nicholas never met a person he didn’t like. He gets along with everyone,” Famiano says. “They put him in these environments for kids with behavioral issues when he didn’t have any. What he needs is one-on-one instruction at all times. He wasn’t getting that in public school.”

Blessed with an inquisitive nature, Danielle is known to rattle off one question after another – but not always in a predictable direction. The fast-paced rhythm and chaos of a traditional classroom wreaked havoc on her mental health.

Famiano’s voice trembles as she reminisces about her daughter’s intense struggles.

Danielle shows off some of her creative mixed media artwork.

Danielle shows off some of her creative mixed media artwork.

“The structure of the classroom drove Danielle crazy – charts, colors, people talking all over the place,” she said. “The lunchroom would really drive her nuts. She would hold it in all day and as soon as she got in the car she would explode. Screaming, crying, ripping at her clothes.”

Children on the autism spectrum often can have sensory issues and act out when overstimulated.

A few years ago, a public school teacher told Famiano about the Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs. She applied through Step Up For Students and Nicholas and Danielle were accepted. The scholarships have given new hope to a mother who saw great potential in her children.

The ability to teach her children at a speed they were comfortable with has resulted in great academic progress.

“They have gifts that aren’t necessarily discovered in a classroom setting. I saw that potential in them from the first time I met them,” Famiano says. “The success my children are enjoying is due to the fact the Gardiner Scholarship is geared towards each child’s strength. It’s the personalized learning experience that has made it so successful. A lot of people don’t understand this.”

Christina Cancel, a teacher and home-school evaluator with Central Florida Home Education Services, currently works with Nicholas and Danielle. She has been impressed with the children’s progress in the three years she has known them.

“Both their worlds have blown wide open through the resources and opportunities now available to them,” Cancel says. “They’ve really come out of their shells.”

Those resources include working with blocks for Nicholas, which has led to a boost in his confidence and a blossoming of his social ability. For Danielle, greater access to technology, such as cameras, has helped improve her studies as well.

“Both will always struggle, but (Gardiner) has been life-changing for them,” Cancel says.

Stories like theirs emphasize the importance of dynamic and flexible educational plans for children based on their individual needs.

As Famiano likes to tell it, some of the days Nicholas and Danielle learn best are when she “tricks” them into thinking they aren’t having school that day.

“You can’t believe what these kids can do,” Famiano says. “They just do it differently.”

Nicholas has discovered an ability to build things. He puts together gear systems with Lego sets, and is learning to calculate numbers in his head from using computers.

Danielle has made a leap in her reading through her work with video production and photography. The Famianos continue their journey on the Gardiner Scholarship, armed with a level of parental empowerment that helps maximize the children’s abilities.

That empowerment extends to Danielle and Nicholas.

With an eye to their futures, the siblings written off by so many are filled with wide-eyed optimism.

Nicholas competes in the Special Olympics. He is an avid power lifter, bowler and swimmer, recently winning an assisted-swimming competition in Crystal River. He dreams of one day becoming a police officer.

Danielle wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a photographer. Famiano says her mastery of their Cannon Mark 3 camera is a sight to behold.

One thing is certain:  The progress Nicholas and Danielle have made since their adoption has been staggering. Famiano is grateful.

“The biggest thing for me is they have a goal,” she says. “I was always told they wouldn’t have them, that they wouldn’t be able to form them. That’s the most exciting thing for me.”

 

Meet Ben Zanca, Gardiner scholar

By GEOFF FOX

Student-Spotlight_blog REseizedDoctors didn’t expect Ben Zanca to live very long. Even before his birth, fluid was drained from his lungs every week for eight weeks until he was delivered.

Ben’s parents, Ann and Tony Zanca, were told Ben may need a chest tube after his birth and possibly surgery.

“But, when they put the (chest) tube in all the blood vessels shut down,” Ann Zanca said. “It’s called persistent pulmonary hypertension, which not many people survive at that age. He was transferred to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children (in Orlando) where there is a heart-lung bypass machine.” Ben Z

Things looked bleak.

“They told us he was going to die,” Tony Zanca said. “They called in a priest and everything.”

Fortunately, a nitric oxide treatment worked and Ben did not have to go on the lung-heart bypass machine.

“They said they’d never seen a baby as sick as Ben pull through,” Ann Zanca said.

Unfortunately, Ben’s medical struggles and the family’s worries were only beginning. Problems with his blood vessels went misdiagnosed for more than 12 years.

About 18 months ago, Ben, now an outgoing 14-year-old who loves camping, was finally diagnosed with CLOVES syndrome, an extremely rare disorder characterized by tissue overgrowth and complex vascular malformations. Worldwide, less than 200 cases of CLOVES syndrome have ever been identified, according to information from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Because of CLOVES, Ben is at risk for developing blood clots and has regular doctor visits to monitor his vascular health.

That’s not his only issue. Shortly after he was born, Ben was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He also has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and deals with epilepsy and asthma.

Until the current school year, he attended public school in Altamonte Springs, Florida, where he lives with his family, including 9-year-old sister Megan. Tony Zanca works in the parts department of a local auto dealer and Ann works part-time jobs as a computer programmer analyst and as an advocate for parents with children who have an Individualized Educational Plan.

Ben was not thriving at the public school.

“It’s not that they didn’t care, but he wasn’t going anywhere; he was going backward,” Tony Zanca said. “Teachers have their hands tied with all the new testing and all they did was quizzing for the test. There was no hands-on learning, which is what Ben thrives on.”

For years, Ann Zanca wanted to enroll Ben in the nearby Pace Brantley School in Longwood, but the family couldn’t afford it. Established in 1971, the school has always been geared toward students with learning issues. It is situated on nine wooded acres that offer a serene setting.

Eventually, a friend told Ann Zanca about the Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs; the scholarship is managed by Step Up For Students. In 2016, the Zancas applied for the scholarship – which can help families pay for tuition at partner schools,  approved therapists, specialists, curriculum, technology or even a college savings account – and Ben was accepted.

“Ben is very social and I don’t want him to miss out on the experience of school,” Ann Zanca said. “They have a well-rounded curriculum and lots of extra-curricular activities. They even have a prom. I was also concerned if it would be academic enough. Of all the places I knew of or visited, it seemed to be up to standards.

“It seems to challenge him but he doesn’t seem overwhelmed. There are people there to help him. We do have a private tutor for math. His teacher tells me he’s definitely challenged in pre-algebra, but he’s doing well. That makes me happy. The goal is that he’ll be able to get a regular diploma and either go to vocational school or college afterward.”

Now in eighth grade, Ben enjoys going to school. Due to his medical issues, he often has doctor’s appointments during the school day. Before, his mother said, he would sometimes call from school to see if she could pick him up early. Now, he doesn’t want to leave Pace Brantley’s campus.

While he has historically struggled with reading, English is now one of his favorite subjects, along with math.

“We were learning substitution, the three ways of substitution in math,” Ben said after a recent day at school. “That’s in algebra; it’s coming along.”

Of his favorite times of day is FLEX (Focused Learning Experience) Time, when students can choose a subject of their own to explore after lunch. Activities can include arts and crafts, learning a foreign language, tennis, yoga, tai chi or taking virtual field trips on a Smartphone.

On this particular day, Ben chose art.

“We were drawing different types of flags and what they look like,” he said. “I drew the Florida flag.”

Jennifer Portilla, Ben’s reading and language arts teacher, said she has seen him flourish since the school year began.

“He seems really comfortable and he’s willing to take risks. He’s not afraid to not be successful” in class, she said. “Academically, he’s making strides. He’s a pretty good writer for his age. He is able to write an essay and he doesn’t seem to struggle as much as at the beginning of the year.”

One of Ben’s other interests is the Boy Scouts. Despite his son’s many medical obstacles, Tony Zanca said he tries to treat him “like any other boy would be treated.” On a recent Boy Scout camping trip, he allowed Ben to paddle on a canoe with another scout.

“Years ago, I would never let him out in canoes down the river without me,” Tony Zanca said. “But it’s like I told him, ‘I’m going to have to start letting you do things by yourself, make your decisions and not do things wrong’. Someday soon, I’ll let him go on a (Boy Scout) camping trip by himself.”

The Zancas say that while Ben is obviously aware that he has medical issues, he doesn’t dwell on them. Because CLOVES can cause blood clots (Ben has had a few), they constantly monitor how he’s feeling. Now that he’s at Pace Brantley, which has a nurse on campus, his parents are more at ease.

“The scholarship was huge, like the answer to our prayers,” Ann Zanca said. “His self-confidence has increased tremendously. It’s a lot of hands-on learning. He made a car out of a Coke bottle and started telling me about Newton’s Laws of Motion. His self-confidence has increased tremendously.”

Reach Geoff Fox at Gfox@sufs.org

A supportive environment made all the difference for this scholarship student

By JEFF BARLIS

Student-Spotlight_blog REseizedTatianna Mondesir used to pull her hair down over her face in class. She was trying to hide, trying to avoid being called upon to answer questions she knew she would get wrong.

“When I got a wrong answer, people would laugh at me,” said the normally vibrant girl with the long braids. “I didn’t understand as well as them.”

In her zoned neighborhood school, she was earning C’s, D’s and F’s in third grade and was in danger of being retained. She managed to scrape by, but her pediatrician had advice for her mother: Look into the Step Up For Students scholarship for low-income students. Consider a private school that might give Tatianna a better chance to learn and grow. Tatianna

The next year, at Abundant Life Christian Academy in Margate, Tatianna was still struggling and hiding behind her hair. But now no one laughed when she couldn’t produce the answers.

Tatianna Mondesir graduated from eighth grade at Abundant Life Christian Academy in Margate last spring.

This was the start of a transformation.

“The teachers and my classmates supported me,” said Tatianna, now a ninth-grader. “In fourth grade and fifth grade I struggled a lot, because I wasn’t on the same level as other kids. But I improved to getting C’s.”

Smaller classes, after-school tutoring, and extra attention from her teachers helped. But nothing made as big an impact, Tatianna said, as the compassion and encouragement she felt all around her.

Finally, she had hope, which began to turn into belief in herself.

“When she came to sixth grade, she was still a year behind,” said history teacher Laura Hennebery. “But she was really working hard.”

And wanting more. Quarter after quarter, Tatianna watched her friends go up on stage for an honor roll ceremony while she sat alone next to their empty chairs. She became obsessed with making honor roll, too.

At the end of the fourth quarter, she thought she was there. But when she and her mom, Karen, met with her math teacher, she learned she was short by a single point.

“I had a 79,” Tatianna recalled. “I was so happy! I thought she was going to round up, but she didn’t. My mom asked her if I could have extra credit so I could make the honor roll, but she wouldn’t let me. She said I should have done the extra credit that was available (during the school year). But I never did that, which was a mistake.”

Tatianna was upset at first. But her teachers continued to be supportive. And the next year, her determination kicked into higher gear.

She wrote down her goals for seventh grade: Work harder. Study more. Participate in class. Read more books. Do all the extra credit. Make honor roll.

Tatianna also changed her hairstyle, wearing a headband to hold her hair back. A beautiful smile emerged with her confidence.

To everyone around her, the change was obvious.

“When she first came to school and even through sixth grade, she was very quiet, kept to herself,” Ms. Hennebery said. “She just didn’t want anyone giving her any kind of attention. … You’d ask her a question and she would just shake her head, ‘No, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that.’ ”

But now Tatianna was involved with school activities, participating in class – and meeting her goals.

She got all A’s and B’s and made honor roll all four quarters. At the end of the year, she was on stage shaking hands with principal Stacy Angier, who gave her a pin for induction into the National Junior Honor Society.

“When I walked onto the stage it was really cool, an incredible feeling,” she said. “I was really proud of myself.”

After finishing eighth grade at Abundant Life, Tatianna enrolled in her zoned, public high school. Her mom had lost her job in administration at a pest control company. So even with the Step Up scholarship, a private school was no longer financially possible.

Her new school is huge and fast-paced. But Tatianna said her goals are on track. She plans to go to college and become a lawyer – things she didn’t dare dream a few years ago.

Mom is confident, too. Tatianna’s first report card showed her falling just shy of honor roll, with all A’s and B’s and one C (in digital marketing). But it’s not like she hasn’t been here before.

Thanks to the scholarship, Tatianna was able to attend a school where “they really pushed her,” Karen said.

Now, she knows how to push herself.

Said mom, “I know she will be okay now.”

About Abundant Life Christian Academy

Started in 1990, Abundant Life Christian Academy is accredited by AdvancED and serves 445 PreK-8 students, including 237 on tax credit scholarships. The school uses a mix of curriculum – mostly BJU Press, Saxon Math in middle school, and some Abeka materials. This year, the MAP® (Measures of Academic Progress) test replaced the SAT as the school’s annual assessment test. Tuition varies per grade, from $6,600 to $7,300 per year. Abundant Life participates in Step Up For Students’ Success Partners program, a two-year comprehensive professional development program that is free to all schools serving Step Up For Students scholars. Success Partners is grounded in current research that directly correlates student success with parent involvement regardless of economic, racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds.The school also has access to the Teaching and Learning Exchange, a web-based, interactive tool featuring the State Standards, instructional strategies, parent and student interventions, while at the same time addressing social and behavioral issues. Abundant Life is also participating in a MAP® pilot program run by Step Up. MAP® is an adaptive computer assessment that informs educators as to what individual students are ready to learn and guides the teachers to revise their teaching based on student needs.

 

Girls run for the joy and life lessons of it at St. Pius V Catholic School

By LAUREN MAY, Guest Blogger

At St. Pius V Catholic School in Jacksonville we’re excited to have a new extracurricular offering: Girls on the Run, a nonprofit after-school activity for girls in grades three through eight. The mission: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”

Fourth-grader Ta'Niya Bartley and Princial "Coach" Lauren May run during a recent practice.

Fourth-grader Ta’Niya Bartley and Princial “Coach” Lauren May run during a recent practice.

St. Pius second-grade teacher Esther Franqui coached at a previous school and thought it would be a great addition to the activities available to students at St. Pius.

Coach Franqui and myself, Principal “Coach” Lauren May, created a team of 13 female students. The girls are engaged twice weekly in the Girls on the Run curriculum which helps girls learn valuable core lessons such as:

  • Recognizing our power and responsibility to be intentional in our decision making
  • Embracing our differences and find strength in our connectedness
  • Expressing joy, optimism and gratitude through our words, thoughts and actions
  • Nurturing our physical, emotional and spiritual health
  • Leading with an open heart and assume positive intent
  • Standing up for ourselves and others.

It’s already having a positive impact on our students.

“I like Girls on the Run because it helps me make friends, be a kind person and get in shape,” said Mikela Jones, fourth-grader at St. Pius.

Fourth-grader Mikayla Jones, , Gwendolyn Hickson, and daughter Trimya Jackson, also a fourth-grader share a moment during practice.

Fourth-grader Mikayla Jones, , Gwendolyn Hickson, and daughter Trimya Jackson, also a fourth-grader share a moment during practice.

Step Up For Students has several coaches or running buddies in the Jacksonville area. The season ends today (Dec. 3) with a 5K at the University of North Florida, and each girl is assigned a running buddy who runs the 5K with her.

This is a great way for the community to have an impact a girl in a positive way. The girls feel empowered and they are excited about the support.

“I have never been more proud of myself!” said fifth-grader Alethea Butler, after 5K practice at St. Pius on Nov. 10.

Third grader Caleb Dubois-Brinson runs during practice.

Third-grader Caleb Dubois-Brinson runs during practice.

At the Girls on the Run coaches training I met with Conchita Moody, Step Up’s Human Resources manager.

We began talking about the history of St. Pius and the 120 Step Up scholars at the school.

“Coach” Conchita agreed to send Step Up hats to all girls on the team.

The community at large is being positively impacted by the work of St. Pius faculty and staff at Step Up partner schools and in the Step Up offices.

Thank you for your participation and for helping our girls learn to activate their limitless potential and learn to accomplish her dreams. Thank you also to Girls on the Run for their support of the program in several schools across the state!

Prior to becoming principal of St. Pius in the 2015-16 school year, Lauren May taught kindergarten at the Jacksonville school for four years.  She holds a bachelor’s and Master of Education, specializing in Early Childhood and Special Education from the University of Florida and is currently studying for a Master of Educational Leadership  at St. Leo University. Lauren is an avid Gator fan. While in college, she worked with the Gator football team recruiting department and gave tours to prospective students. She has served on the Gator Club of Jacksonville board of directors for four years, most recently as vice president.

Republic National Distributing Company contributes $55 million to Step Up For Students Scholarship Program

By PAUL SOOST

donor corner TAMPA – Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), the nation’s second largest premium wine and spirits distributor, announced Monday a $55 million donation to Step Up For Students to provide scholarships for financially disadvantaged children in Florida.

Republic National Distributing Company Florida EVP Ron Barcena (second from left) presented Step Up For Students with a $55 million check at an event on Monday at Cristo Rey Tampa High School. Joining Barcena is Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill (second from right) and Step Up scholars Jeremiah Alexander, Steven Faison, Tamara Gumbs, Ziyah Hughes and Ariely Burgos.

The donation was announced Monday at Cristo Rey Tampa High School, a Catholic college-preparatory school and work study program for lower-income children in the Tampa Bay area. Of the 88 students attending Cristo Rey Tampa High School, 76 of them are recipients of the Step Up For Students scholarship.

RNDC State Executive Vice President Ron Barcena presented Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill with an oversized check representing the company’s $55 million contribution for the 2016-17 school year. The company’s donation, more than triple the amount of previous years, will fund more than 9,000 K-12 scholarships. The donation marks the fifth consecutive year that RNDC has partnered with Step Up, bringing its total to $115 million since 2012.

“As part of our commitment to social responsibility, we are focused on making positive differences that enrich the spirit and well-being of those in the communities we serve,” said Barcena. “We’re thrilled that this contribution will provide educational choices for lower-income Florida families, helping them set their children up for a successful future.”

From a truck driver to sales representative to human resources manager, a diverse group of RNDC associates attended the event with Barcena.

“We can’t do this without them,” Barcena said, adding it takes a strong effort from all parts of the business to be successful as a company, and the same is true for community engagement.

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State Sen. Darryl Rouson shakes hands with Cristo Rey freshman Ziyah Hughes while Tamara Gumbs, also a freshman, looks on.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson attended the event at Cristo Rey to thank Republic National Distributing Company for supporting the community and lower-income students.

“Having received a private school education myself, I’m proud to see so many deserving students receiving the same learning opportunity, thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and to corporate donors like Republic National Distributing Company,” he said.

Rouson recalled a time as a boy he attended camp on the same grounds as Cristo Rey, and that he, too, went to Catholic school which led him to his successful career as a lawyer and a legislator.

“Saints walk among us daily and they come in the form of companies like Republic National Distributing Company and provide opportunities for children who need it,” Rouson said.

Steven Faison, an freshman at Cristo Rey Tampa High School shared his scholarship story during the event Monday with Republic National Distributing Company and Step Up For Students representatives.

Steven Faison, a freshman at Cristo Rey Tampa High School shared his scholarship story during the event Monday with Republic National Distributing Company and Step Up For Students representatives.

Steven Faison is one such student. The ninth-grader at Cristo Rey told the small crowd of guests at his school that while he went to a public magnet school, the overcrowding was troublesome for him. But private school seemed financially out of reach until he and his family learned about Cristo Rey and the scholarships through Step Up For Students.

“Education is very important to my family,” he said, “I plan to be the first in my family to attend and graduate from college.”

Step Up helps manage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to qualified lower-income K-12 schoolchildren throughout Florida. The program allows recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district public school.

“We are truly grateful for the generosity and support of Republic National Distributing Company. The positive impact they will have on more than 9,000 children this year alone is truly remarkable,” said Tuthill. “RNDC is a great partner, and on behalf of our families, we thank them for their continued support.”

During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 95,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. More than 1,600 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

Step Up public relations and social media manager Lisa A. Davis contributed to this report. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HMSHost partners with Step Up For Students; contributes $400K

By PAUL SOOST

donor cornerBETHESDA, MD — Global restaurateur HMSHost has pledged $400,000 to Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that helps manage the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for lower-income schoolchildren in  Florida.

HMSHost’s contribution will benefit children whose educational options are limited by household income, helping underprivileged children attend a K-12 school of their parents’ choice that better fits their learning needs. Parents can choose between a scholarship toward private school tuition and fees, or one to offset the cost of transportation to an out-of-county public school.hms-logo-footer

“HMSHost values education immensely, and investing in the local communities where we operate is extremely important to our company,” said HMSHost President and CEO Steve Johnson. “The Step Up For Students organization is doing important work in Florida and it is a privilege to have formed this partnership to help set up Florida youth for success.”

The scholarship program’s funding comes from tax-credited donations from corporations like HMSHost that do business in Florida.

“Thanks to HMSHost, 66 Florida schoolchildren will have the opportunity to attend a school that fits the way they learn, regardless of where they live or their parents’ income,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “On behalf of Step Up and our families, we thank HMSHost for its generosity and we are grateful they have chosen to support our mission.”

Florida enacted the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program in 2001 to expand educational opportunities for children of families with limited financial resources. Since its inception, the program has grown exponentially and awarded more than 95,000 scholarships to economically disadvantaged students for the 2016-17 school year.

HMSHost operates restaurants in nine Florida airports and is committed to supporting state and local communities. Visit HMSHost’s location finder to see where HMSHost operates. Further details about HMSHost’s commitment to community relations can be found here:http://www.hmshost.com/community.

The company is a world leader in creating dining for travel venues. HMSHost operates in more than 120 airports around the globe, including 44 of the 50 busiest airports in North America. The Company has annual sales in excess of $2.8 billion and employs more than 37,000 sales associates worldwide. HMSHost is a part of Autogrill Group, the world’s leading provider of food & beverage services for people on the move. With sales of around €4.3 billion in 2015, the Group operates in 31 countries and employs over 57,000 people. It manages approximately 4,200 stores in over 1,000 locations worldwide. Visit www.HMSHost.com for more information. They can also be found on Facebook at fb.com/HMSHost and on Twitter at @HMSHost.

 

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