Tag Archives forFlorida Tax Credit Scholarship

Congratulations on your master’s degree, Denisha!

By LISA A. DAVIS

From middle school on, we’ve watched Denisha Merriweather grow from an uncertain and failing young student into a confident, strong and already successful young woman.

Through the years, she has taken the stage as a Step Up For Students scholar and graduate, advocating for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the program that changed her life.

She has spoken in front of, and been introduced by, governors and other high-ranking politicians, including the President of the United States. In a big way, she has become the face of school choice not only in Florida, but in the nation.

Once destined to drop out of school after failing third grade not once, but twice, Denisha today receives her master’s degree in social work from the University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Studies.

Denisha is not only a friend to the staff of Step Up For Students, she is now a coworker advocating for families all over the state.  To say the staff is proud of her is a bit of an understatement. But, yes, Denisha, your Step Up family is so, so proud of you and can’t wait to applaud you as you continue your life’s journey.

Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment!

From John Kirtley, founder and chairman of Step Up For Students:

“Denisha embodies the power of choice. Her life story shows the wonderful things that can happen if a student can find the right learning environment. Congratulations Denisha!”

Said Jen Canning, Step Up process manager for the office of the president:

“It’s an honor to celebrate Denisha’s accomplishments with her today. Denisha isn’t just a model student, she’s a model citizen. Her commitment to using her life experiences to make the world a better place is truly remarkable. I’m proud of Denisha’s academic success, but I’m even more proud to call her my friend. ”

From Step Up Vice President of Advancement and CMO Alissa Randall:

“From failing third grade twice to working toward her master’s degree and earning it, that’ s quite an accomplishment. With the opportunity of a scholarship, she excelled and has made us all so very proud. She is a strong young woman who has an amazing future ahead of her. I’m so incredibly proud of her and all she has accomplished and what she will in the future.”

From “Nia” Estefania Nunez-Brady, Step Up manager of faith-based initiatives:

“I am so proud of the woman, sister and friend she has become to me. Everything she has accomplished, she worked hard for. Denisha, now it’s time to make all your dreams come true. I love you, friend.”

To learn about Denisha’s journey, click here.

Lisa Davis can be reached at ldavis@sufs.org

Former lawmaker joins Step Up For Students board

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on the redefinED blog on April 26, 2017.  The blog is hosted by Step Up For Students and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education.

Sen. John Legg

A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major school choice programs.

State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016.

Before he supported the school choice movement as a legislator, Legg supported it as an educator. In 2000, he helped found Dayspring Academy, a high-performing Pasco County charter school where he serves as an administrator.

Step Up’s board unanimously elected Legg to the unpaid position this week. He will join another former state lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Al Lawson.

“John Legg is an innovative and successful educator, as well as a gifted legislator and a great person,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “John is committed to serving disadvantaged youth, and will be a wonderful addition to our organization.”

“It’s humbling to be a part of such an amazing team that has made such a dramatic impact in the lives of young people and families,” Legg wrote in an email.

Step Up helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which helps more than 98,000 low-income and working class students afford private school tuition. It also helps administer the Gardiner Scholarships, which provide education savings accounts to more than 7,000 students with cetain special needs.

Travis Pillow can be reached at tpillow@sufs.org.

Student spotlight: Darius Lue

 

By GEOFF FOX

Outgoing, loyal, charismatic, hard-working.

“I had to work pretty hard,” Darius said of playing on varsity win ninth grade at Seffner Academy. “I had some athleticism, but when I was smaller I wasn’t fast and I had some weight on me. I was not one of those skinny kids who can dunk and run fast.”

The adjectives used by officials at Seffner Christian Academy to describe senior Darius Lue are words any parent would want to hear about their child.

Humble, friendly, intelligent, dedicated – the list goes on.

“He’s a natural leader,” said Amanda Allotta, school counselor at Seffner Christian.

Sam Moorer, the school’s basketball coach, agreed. Standing 6-feet-1-inch, Darius is a dynamic point guard who is was scouted by several universities, while maintaining a 3.96 GPA. He’s the kind of student-athlete who studies or does homework on the team bus and before practice.

“I think the world of him,” Moorer said. “He doesn’t look to cut corners. He’s Mr. Positive. He encourages people and never tears them down. He treats his teammates like he wants to be treated and takes a genuine interest in people. Every day, he comes up to me and asks, ‘Hey coach, how’s your day going?’ There aren’t many kids who do that. I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t like him.”

Darius is the youngest of Denise Waite’s three sons. A single mother, Waite learned of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students as her middle son, Miles, was entering fifth grade. She applied for and was awarded the scholarship, which allowed Miles to attend Florida College Academy in Temple Terrace, where he thrived. Miles, 21, now attends Hillsborough Community College.

Waite applied for the scholarship again before Darius started kindergarten; he has been on the scholarship through Step Up ever since.

“Our neighborhood schools might not have been terrible, but they were not the best,” said Waite, an independent insurance agent. “I wanted to give him the opportunity to grow and flourish in an environment with a lot of positivity.

“The environment is full of encouraging teachers, so he’s always surrounded by someone to encourage great behavior. The coaches and staff, everybody knows him and they know me. It’s great to have that support all around. If anything ever went wrong, I know they’d be there.”

Darius Lua, on college signing day, with from left to right, Nnece Kamiyah Brown, nephew Wayne Brown and cousin Makayla Hylton.

While Darius’ prowess on the basketball court is now obvious, he said he was hardly a natural athlete and barely did more than dribble a basketball until about age 9. But once he did, hoops fever took hold and he committed himself to constantly practicing and studying the game.

He improved rapidly. By the time Darius, 18, reached ninth grade at Seffner Christian, he was playing on the varsity squad.

“I had to work pretty hard,” Darius said. “I had some athleticism, but when I was smaller I wasn’t fast and I had some weight on me. I was not one of those skinny kids who can dunk and run fast.”

His hard work on and off the basketball court has paid off, as he accepted a scholarship this year to play basketball at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

While Darius dreams of someday playing in the National Basketball Association, he is as practical as he is athletic. He is considering majoring in business management or accounting in college.

“I always wanted to be the top guy sitting over the business, the one with the ideas,” he said.

The adults in Darius’ life are confident he will succeed regardless of which path he takes.

“He takes very challenging courses,” said Allotta, the guidance counselor. “He’s in honor’s level or AP (Advanced Placement) courses. He challenges himself and still does very well. I’m confident he’ll be successful in whatever he does.”

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

Step Up scholarship helps boost Ariely’s grades and confidence

By GEOFF FOX

Student-Spotlight_blog REseizedLinery Burgos’ voice cracked with emotion as she spoke about the academic progress of her oldest daughter, Ariely, a ninth-grader at the recently opened Cristo Rey Tampa High School.

Ariely Burgos, a freshman at Cristo Rey Tampa High School, wants to be an athletic

Ariely Burgos, a freshman at Cristo Rey Tampa High School, wants to be an athletic coach or PE teacher.

For years, Ariely has struggled with dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), the last a condition that makes it hard for her to understand vocal tones or distinguish certain sounds.

“Some people think she can’t hear, but she can,” Burgos said of Ariely, who is 15. “Her brain just doesn’t always process what she’s hearing. Some sounds and words sound similar, so she can’t always catch if someone is being sarcastic or joking. It directly influences her reading fluency and that causes issues in school.”

Watching Ariely struggle through their neighborhood school tore at her mother’s heart. Imagine trying to learn how to read when some of the letters don’t look right and the words sound wrong.

“Sometimes, I’ll read words that aren’t even on the page and I’ll mix up sentences or skip sentences,” Ariely said.

Due to her challenges, Ariely often speaks in a soft voice and isn’t one to initiate conversation, but her smile can light up a room.

Burgos wanted to enroll her in a private Catholic school, where she could receive more attention in a Christian setting, but she and husband Jose Burgos couldn’t afford it.

Fortunately, as Ariely was about to enter third grade, her mother learned of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students. The family applied and Ariely was accepted. She enrolled at Tampa’s St. Joseph Catholic School for three years before transferring to Morning Star School, a private school that serves students with learning disabilities.

At Morning Star, Burgos said, the teachers worked “miracles” with Ariely.

“Step Up was great because we could get her in a school for learning disabilities,” Burgos said. “When she started sixth grade at Morning Star, she was reading on a third grade level. She is now reading on a high seventh-grade or low eighth-grade level. She still has difficulty, but she’s acquired a lot of different skills.”

Ariely said she enjoyed St. Joseph and Morning Star because of more individualized instruction, especially with reading.

“The teachers were really fun and that makes it easier to learn,” Ariely said. “They bring joy into the classroom. They were always cheerful and always caring.”

Morning Star Principal Eileen Odom said that while Ariely was struggling in a few subjects when she entered the school in sixth grade, she was obviously “very bright and spiritual.” Despite Ariely’s reading struggles, Odom said she excelled at math.

“I think she just needed an environment that was more student-centered,” Odom said. “She’s initially kind of shy and quiet. If I would get her to read something, she would talk in a real quiet voice, but if you provide her with some successful experiences she can rise to the occasion. We helped her realize she had strengths and could succeed. We spent the next three years trying to boost her up and give her confidence.”

It worked.

Ariely was eventually comfortable enough at the school to run for Student Council, star in Christmas plays, assist as an altar server and help with fundraising.

When it was time for Ariely to enter high school, Burgos didn’t hesitate to choose Cristo Rey, which opened in August 2016. She said the school’s Corporate Work Study Program was particularly appealing.

Through that program, Ariely now works at Step Up’s Clearwater office several times a month. In that capacity, she has written a story about herself for Step Up’s blog, helped create a video describing her school’s relationship with Step Up, which will be shown to the nonprofit’s board of directors, as well as paperwork and other duties.

“The opportunity to go into the workforce, and a professional workforce, that’s what sold me,” Burgos said. “These children will have an opportunity that is usually for students who are leaving college. That will pump up their self-esteem and give them networking opportunities they never knew were available. It can help them have a different outlook on life.

“They’re doing it for underprivileged kids because they need it the most. Hopefully, they won’t get stuck in the rut of leaving high school and just getting some job. For a lot of their parents, maybe that’s all they knew. This may help them see that, hey, I can go to college and make something better. That will help my family and anyone who comes behind me. Giving that opportunity to children who wouldn’t otherwise have it is a blessing on its own.”

While Cristo Rey serves only low-income students, it is choosy about who is enrolled. Students must be able to maintain a C grade point average and be able to do college preparatory work.

Cristo Rey is already one of Step Up’s Success Partners, meaning it participates in a two-year comprehensive professional development program that is free to all schools serving Step Up scholars. Success Partners is grounded in current research that directly correlates student success with parent involvement regardless of economic, racial, ethnic or educational backgrounds .At Cristo Rey Principal Jim Madden said Ariely already seems comfortable. She made all A’s and one B in the first semester.

“Ariely is very quiet, but very observant,” Madden said. “She takes in everything around her. She tries hard and has already been having success in the classroom and social environment.”

Burgos said her family is thankful for the scholarship, and not just for Ariely. Her younger daughters, Linery, 13, and Jolie, 6, also have received tax-credit scholarships to attend Villa Madonna Catholic School in Tampa. Linery has been on the scholarship seven years, like Ariely, and Jolie for two.

“We are eternally grateful for these opportunities,” Burgos said. “This was a dream come true. Without Step Up, we couldn’t put our kids in Catholic school and give them the education we think they need. That’s one thing in life people can’t take from you. People can hurt you and break your heart, but no one can take away what you’ve learned.”

Reach Geoff Fox at gfox@sufs.org.

 

 

 

 

 

PNC donates $2 million to Step Up For Students to provide 329 scholarships for local students

By PAUL SOOSTdonor corner

As part of PNC Bank’s $2 million donation to Step Up For Students, PNC hosted Atlantic Christian Academy’s 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement economics class at their West Palm Beach offices. The class stopped by the office of Cressman Bronson, PNC’s regional president of Florida east. Pictured are (left to right) Alicia Gray, Headmaster Jim Rozendal, Neylena Hedmont, Josh Dubinsky, economics teacher Thomas Sanders, Jonah Arterburn, Michela Payne and Mardoshee Mercius.

As part of PNC Bank’s $2 million donation to Step Up For Students, PNC hosted Atlantic Christian Academy’s 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement economics class at their West Palm Beach offices. The class stopped by the office of Cressman Bronson, PNC’s regional president of Florida east. Pictured are (left to right) Alicia Gray, Headmaster Jim Rozendal, Neylena Hedmont, Josh Dubinsky, economics teacher Thomas Sanders, Jonah Arterburn, Michela Payne and Mardoshee Mercius.

 WEST PALM BEACH – The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC), one of the largest diversified financial services institutions in the U.S., announced Wednesday a $2 million donation to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program through Step Up For Students for 329 financially disadvantaged children in Palm Beach County.

The $2 million donation will be used for scholarships during the 2016-17 school year. This is the first time that PNC has partnered with Step Up For Students, which is funded by corporationhttp://www,pnc.coms with tax-credited donations. PNC’s contribution will fund K-12 scholarships, so lower-income children can attend the school that best meets their learning needs.

PNC Bank Community Development Manager Lucy Carr teaches the AP economics class from Atlantic Christian Academy about credit reports, identity theft and keeping up your credit score to buy a car, a home or get a job.

PNC Bank Community Development Manager Lucy Carr teaches the AP economics class from Atlantic Christian Academy about credit reports, identity theft and keeping up your credit score to buy a car, a home or get a job.

The donation was announced by Cressman Bronson, PNC’s regional president of Florida East, on Wednesday while Atlantic Christian Academy‘s 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement economics class visited the bank’s local West Palm Beach offices. During their time at PNC, the students learned about monitoring credit scores, applying for school and car loans, as well as learning about the different lines of business that keep the engine of the bank humming smoothly.

“Our support of Step Up for Students is a strategic investment in the future of Palm Beach County children,” said Bronson.

“By easing the financial burden for parents with this tax donation, we’re supporting a solid foundation for the growth and success of our local children, their families and ultimately, our Florida economy.”

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.

During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students is serving nearly 98,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

“We are truly grateful for the generosity and support of PNC. The positive impact they will have on 329 children this year alone is truly remarkable,” said Step Up For Students CFO Joe Pfountz. “PNC is a great partner, and on behalf of our families, we thank them for their generosity.”

 About PNC

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. is one of the largest diversified financial services institutions in the United States, organized around its customers and communities for strong relationships and local delivery of retail and business banking; residential mortgage banking; specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real estate finance and asset-based lending; wealth management and asset management. For information about PNC, visit the website.

Wright Flood donates $1 million to Step Up For Students Scholarship Program

By PAUL SOOST

Wright

During Step Up’s Rising Stars Awards Ceremony in St. Petersburg, Wright Flood presented Step Up For Students a check for $1 million to go toward scholarships for the 2016-17 school year. Students who were recognized during the ceremony for excellence thanked the company’s representatives for their generosity.

donor cornerST. PETERSBURG – Wright Flood, the largest provider of federal flood insurance policies in the U.S., recently announced its largest contribution to date to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program. Wright Flood’s $1 million contribution will provide 164 scholarships to financially disadvantaged Florida schoolchildren.

The contribution was announced during the Step Up For Students Rising Stars Awards celebration in Pinellas County. The event, hosted at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, recognized Step Up scholars, parents and teachers for their exceptional work during the 2016-17 school year. Students were able to thank Wright Flood executives and other donors attending the event. In 2016, the corporate community contributed a total $559 million for these scholarships, helping lower-income students throughout Florida realize their dreams of attending a private school that fits their educational needs.

Wright Flood has partnered with Step Up For Students since 2008, contributing $2,850,000, which has provided a total of 516 scholarships. Step Up is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. The program is funded by corporations through dollar-for-dollar tax credited donations.

“Wright Flood is proud to donate annually to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program and is impressed with the success of the students who participate,” said Patty Templeton-Jones, president of Wright Flood. “As a St. Petersburg company, we are so glad to see students in our home state benefit.”

During the 2016-17 school year, Step Up For Students is serving nearly 98,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,886 per student. About 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide. Scholars may also choose a $500 scholarship to offset the cost of transportation to an out-of-district public school.

“We are always grateful to longtime corporate partners like Wright Flood who recognize the value of educational choice and who support our mission to ensure that all Florida students have access to learning environments that suit their individual needs,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “We are grateful for Wright Flood’s continued support and for their commitment to the communities they serve.”

Victory: The fight against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is over; children prevail

By STEP UP FOR STUDENTS STAFF

On Jan. 19, 2016, 10,000 Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program supporters, clad in yellow shirts, marched in Tallahassee urging the Florida teacher's union to drop the suit against the program.

On Jan. 19, 2016, 10,000 Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program supporters, clad in yellow shirts, marched in Tallahassee urging the Florida teacher’s union to drop the suit against the program.

We have gratifying legal news to share. The Florida Supreme Court today rejected a final appeal, and the case against Florida’s 15-year-old Tax Credit Scholarship is officially over. Our students and parents won.

In 2014, the Florida Education Association and other groups challenged the program, arguing it steered money to private religious schools, and violated a provision in the state constitution that mandates a “uniform” public school system. The scholarships, they contended, were similar to school vouchers the high court struck down in 2006. But this time, the state prevailed, allowing tens of thousands of scholars to remain in the schools of their choice. The ruling was handing down early Wednesday, ending a long and tireless fight for Florida’s schoolchildren’s rights for education equality.

“Low-income parents and children in Florida have a great deal to celebrate today knowing that their access to school choice and a quality school will no longer be threatened,” John Kirtley, vice chairman of the American Federation for Children and Step Up For Students’ chairman and founder, said in a statement. “We would like to thank our coalition partners and allies in Florida who have worked tirelessly to defend the program and the children who rely on these life-changing scholarships. There should be no barrier preventing a child from reaching their full potential or receiving a world-class education, and we are thankful this meritless lawsuit has been resolved.”

Community and political leaders throughout the state have been applauding the decision, including Rev. R. B. Holmes of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, who helped lead the fight against the lawsuit. Said Holmes: “On behalf of all the scholarship children, their families and their clergy in the Save Our Scholarships coalition, I commend the state Supreme Court on their wise application of the law.”

Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill added: “The court has spoken, and now is the time for us all to come together to work for the best interests of these children. We face enormous challenges with generational poverty, and we need all hands on deck.”

We know these legal proceedings over the past two-and-a-half years have created some angst among our families and supporters, and we hope you, too, will celebrate this ruling. The scholarship this year is serving 98,000 deserving students, and we expect even greater things ahead.

Faith Manuel, who has had three children use the scholarship, including her first son who was born when she was a teenager and is a senior a the University of North Florida, was overjoyed by the news.

“Almost one year after our Historic March on Tallahassee with Martin Luther King III, three days after we celebrated Dr. King’s legacy, we have such a tremendous victory for the students in Florida,” said Manuel, who was a speaker during that rally. “My children’s ability to choose the school which worked for them has made all the difference in their individual success as students. I’m so thankful that this program will have the ability to continue to make a difference for Florida’s students.”

Read updates on today’s Florida Supreme Court ruling here from redefinED.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 15 Years of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship: Graduate Chris Yother dreams to protect Americans

By GEOFF FOX 

step-up-15-logo_final-2Chris Yother could have slipped through the cracks.

A Merritt Island resident, he was one of nine children – and one of a set of quadruplets – born to Kate Brown and Michael Yother.

Unfortunately, Yother’s parents eventually divorced and money was tight. He had always been a conscientious student, but as high school approached, his mother decided she wanted the quadruplets educated at Brevard Private Academy (BPA), a local private school.

The Yothers applied for Florida Tax Credit Scholarships through Step Up For Students, and each of the quadruplets – Chris, Eric, Josh and Allison – were accepted.

At BPA, Chris Yother took dual-enrollment classes through Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State College,  and often tutored other students. By the time he graduated from high school in 2013, he had also earned an associate’s degree. chris-yother-grad

Now a 21-year-old senior at the University of Central Florida majoring in international relations, he still wants to help others.

After he earns his bachelor’s degree, Yother wants to join the U.S. Navy as a commissioned officer.

“Down the road, I’d like to the represent the State Department as a foreign service officer; that would be my dream job,” Yother said. “You represent the interests of Americans abroad, protect them and stand up for their rights.

“I’d love to be in France. I speak some decent French, but I really like the French culture. The opportunity to be stationed anywhere abroad would be an honor.”

His brothers, Eric and Josh Yother, currently serve in the U.S Navy and Marine Corps., respectively. Allison Yother has also considered a military career.

“We’re from a huge military family, and I almost joined right after high school,” Chris Yother said. “Both of my grandfathers were in the military and lots of uncles and a great-grandfather.”

Chris Yother said he and his siblings weren’t falling behind at their local public school, but a private institution seemed “more like a better fit,” adding that their ninth-grade transition to Brevard Private Academy “was very smooth.”

“I liked it a lot,” he said. “The big difference was (smaller) class sizes. The instruction was more personalized. The teachers could do more one-on-one stuff. The environment was modified to help the individual.

“In public school, we were having trouble connecting with the instructors and the material.”

Brown, Yother’s mother, was especially pleased with the change of environment for her quadruplets.

“With the one-on-one attention, they really learned and excelled,” she said.

Jenna Brocchini, an administrator at Brevard Private Academy, described Chris Yother as the most outgoing of his siblings. His positive effect on the small private school was almost immediate.

“He’s a friend to everybody and probably never had an enemy a day in his life,” Brocchini said. “What always struck me about him was he always had a very strong interest in politics. He actually went to see Obama speak” at Merritt Island in 2010.

“He camped out just to see the president speak. He was there the night before, and Obama didn’t speak until the afternoon. He was there in a camping chair and waiting for hours. A lot of kids that age don’t know much about politics or really care.”

As Yother prepares for his senior year at UCF, he is working at Office Depot, where he fixes computers in the technology department. He is also busy organizing paperwork for the Navy.

“It’s a rarity that I have much down time, although I did take a little break this summer,” he said. “I like to read a lot, stay home and still follow all the political stuff.”

And, he’s still helping people.

Brocchini said she recently posted a message on Brevard Private Academy’s Facebook page, asking if anyone could help set up computers at the school or offer technological support.

“Right away, he said, ‘I’ll come, anytime,’” she said. “He’s one of those people you rarely come across. He used to tutor his peers, and he wasn’t selfish with his counseling. He was always ready to help any of his friends. Public service is something I’ve always seen him doing.

“He’s a real humanitarian. I really feel like he’s going to have a successful future.”

Student Spotlight: Step Up graduate Savannah Lang contemplates the future

BY GEOFF FOX

step-up-15-logo_final-2Savannah Lang has time to weigh her options.

The 2015 graduate of Merritt Island Christian School (MICS) had long wanted to become a pharmacist, but as she prepared for her sophomore year at Eastern Florida State College’s Cocoa Campus, the 19-year-old was considering a career in business.

She has also considered engineering.

savannah-lang2

Savannah Lang was inducted into Eastern Florida State College’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

“Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it all out,” Lang said. “I’m not 100 percent sure yet.”

Lang’s scholastic achievements – she earned an overall 3.89 GPA in high school, was part of the National Honor Society and received a humanitarian award for most volunteer hours – and the options she now considers are like answers to the prayers of her mother, Rhonda Ford.

A single mother since her daughter was 3, Ford, a massage therapist, said she had concerns about sending Savannah to public school.

“She had been going to Merritt Island Christian at 3 and 4, and I knew that was where I wanted to have her until she graduated,” Ford said. “I wanted Savannah in a Christian environment.”

The Brevard County school includes an elementary school, middle school and high school, as well as a preschool academy.

However, by the time Savannah was ready to start kindergarten, Ford was struggling financially.

Fate intervened – in the form of a beat-up Nissan Maxima.

“My car needed repair, like, a lot, so I was referred to a mechanic, and when they gave me the total, I asked if we could barter some of (the cost),” Ford said. “The mechanic said, ‘Yes, my wife has four little kids and could definitely use a massage.’

“The mom came into the office and while I was giving her a massage, she told me about Step Up For Students and the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.”

That was in spring 2002. By fall, Savannah’s scholarship application was approved and she was enrolled at MICS.

“The timing of the application was perfect,” Ford said. “It was totally God; He worked it all out.”

At the time, Ford and Savannah lived with Ford’s mother. The family lived under the same roof for several years, as Ford built her business and Savannah flourished in school.

“She was on the honor roll all 12 years and developed really good study habits,” Ford said. “My mom would pick her up after school, and she’d start doing her homework in the car. It was such a blessing, especially for a single mom.

“It was the fact that you feel that you have control and direction of your child’s education – in an environment that is totally conducive for learning. There are no outside influences of an environment without discipline. The teachers can hug you, you know?

“It’s been an amazing blessing.”

While the scholarship helped financially, MICS Superintendent Nanci Dettra, lauded Savannah’s effort in the classroom, and on the varsity volleyball court. Savannah also participated in dual enrollment at MICS, taking high school courses along with college-level ones through a local community college and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

During her senior year, Savannah also received the Principal’s Scholarship, a two-year award to help pay for classes at Eastern Florida State College. At Eastern Florida, she is a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for high academic achievers pursuing two-year degrees.

Dettra described Lang as being as determined and passionate as she was outgoing and popular.

“She really is a go-getter,” Dettra said. “Focused is a great word for Savannah.”

In February 2016, Savannah became a registered pharmacy technician at a local drug store. While it was the right environment to learn more about being a pharmacist, Savannah said her retail experience has led her to consider pursuing a career in merchandising.

Of course, she could change her mind again.

There’s time.

As she drove to the drug store where she works full-time on summer breaks, Savannah seemed grateful for the educational groundwork instilled in her at MICS.

“I really enjoyed it because it was so much smaller, and there was more one-on- one time if you needed help,” she said. “There wasn’t this big classroom. You could talk to teachers and counselors. That helped me tremendously.”

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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