Of the 11 children Dorothy Stephenson has raised – two hers and the rest relatives – all but one attended Orange County public schools.
“They did really well,’’ Dorothy said. “They all got their diplomas.’’
But niece Keyante Scott, diagnosed with a learning disability, couldn’t keep pace with her neighborhood elementary school peers – and her teachers couldn’t seem to help.
“They just kept retaining her,’’ said Dorothy, a reimbursement specialist for 4C Community Coordinated Child Care in Orlando.
When Keyante was headed into the sixth grade – and another year of struggles – her aunt searched for options. A private school with small classes and a strong academic focus seemed like the perfect solution, until Dorothy, a single parent, saw the price tag.
That’s when she discovered she could receive tuition assistance with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program Step Up For Students helps administer.
After qualifying, Dorothy enrolled Keyante into Bridge to Independence, a college-preparatory private school in Orlando that accepts the scholarship.
“I liked what I saw,’’ Dorothy said.
Within the first year, the shy girl whose confidence took a nosedive in her old school became a social butterfly. Keyante’s grades also improved dramatically.
“I noticed it on the very first report card,’’ her aunt said. “I was amazed.’’
And teachers at Keyante’s new school quickly determined she didn’t have a learning disability, Dorothy said. Her niece, now 18 and a senior at Bridge to Independence, just needed more time to understand the fundamentals.
“She needed some of the basics,’’ said Theresa Smith-Givens, a science teacher and the school’s curriculum director. “The stepping stones weren’t there for her to put it together.’’
Bridge to Independence was able to give Keyante more individual attention with class sizes between six to 17 students, depending on the subject, Smith-Givens said. In addition, Keyante is eligible for Title I funding that provides students from low-income neighborhoods with extra help in reading and math.
“It was hard at first,’’ Keyante said.
But her determination and all the extras paid off with Keyante’s grade point average jumping recently from a 2.86 to about 3.2, Smith-Givens said
“Keyante has done an excellent job,’’ Smith-Givens said. “She’s stuck in there with her goals this year and stayed focused on graduation.’’
The teen also has started thinking more about life beyond high school, where her favorite classes are geometry and theater, and she serves as a mentor to younger students.
Bridge to Independence helps with that, too, Smith-Givens said, taking students on college tours and showing, by example, how to reach professional and personal goals through education.
“We (faculty and staff) post our credentials to show them this is how you get where you want to be,’’ said Smith-Givens, who has a doctorate degree. “It isn’t a fluke how you get there.’’
Keyante, who dreams of opening a hair salon someday, now plans to attend nearby Valencia College to receive her cosmetology license. On the horizon: the possibility of continuing her education and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business.
All music to her aunt’s ears.
“I am so grateful she got this opportunity,’’ Dorothy said. Bridge to Independence “gave her incentive to succeed.’’
About Bridge to Independence
Bridge to Independence is a 13-year-old K-12 private school in Orlando with an emphasis on reading, collaboration and problem-solving to help develop the whole child. The college preparatory school offers rigorous academics, including training in the arts and sciences, as well as character education. Of the school’s 130 students, 81 are Step Up scholars. Academic achievement is measured by the Stanford 10 national assessment. Annual tuition ranges from $6,400 to $6,800, with another $500 toward bus transportation.