By ROGER MOONEY
TAMPA, Fla. – The Microsoft Store at International Plaza was filled with students from Bible Truth Ministries Academy, each seated in front of a Surface Pro laptop while completing coding tasks associated with the hugely popular video game Minecraft.
As far as field trips go, this one was like entering the Nether – that’s Minecraft speak for an alternative dimension.
“One of the best,” said Elijah Jenkins, a sophomore at Bible Truth.
Jenkins was one of 50 students from the private pre-K-12 school in Tampa, Florida who spent a recent Thursday morning at the Microsoft Store.
“That’s awesome to hear,” said Ryan Candler, community development specialist at the Microsoft Store.
The workshop meshed with Bible Truth’s STEM education program – science, technology, engineering and math. The students received an introduction to coding using Minecraft and received free backpacks filled with school supplies.
“It’s a great experience to learn about computer software, where things come from and how they operate their business,” Jenkins said.
The Minecraft coding workshop was arranged by Step Up For Students, which has a partnership with Microsoft.
Bible Truth has 105 students this year with 50, including Jenkins, attending the school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students, which is managed by Step Up.
“This was an amazing learning experience for the students at Bible Truth and a great opportunity for each student to experience power of technology,” said Carol Macedonia, Step Up’s, Office of Student Learning vice president. “Our team at OSL was very pleased to have our partnership with Microsoft unite with one of our most supportive schools.”
Suzette Dean, Bible Truth principal, wants to improve her school’s technology capabilities, both for teachers and students.
“I want the students to have more exposure to good information on the internet, educational directed information versus Facebook and Instagram and all the other information they normally go on their cell phones for or their computers for,” Dean said.
She met representatives from Microsoft’s education and training department last spring during a Step Up meeting about MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) skills, an online academic assessment for students.
Microsoft later visited Bible Truth to see the technology the school had and determine how it could be improved. Teachers attended workshops and the students were invited to the store for a two-hour, hands-on field trip.
While free back-to-school workshops in the Microsoft Store is the norm, Candler said the Bible Truth turnout was the largest. As a result, he needed a half-dozen employees to teach the students, answer questions and keep the throng moving from station to station.
The employees made it work, and Candler said it was worth the effort.
“Microsoft is big on diversity and inclusion, so being able to support a school that is coming from a startup phase and trying to get more attention to their school is pretty awesome,” Candler said. “A lot of what we do is not only supporting the students but also the teacher development. When they leave the environment like today having fun, they can also have that same STEM engagement in the classroom.”
Teacher development is key. The idea is to have the students continue to learn the technology they were introduced to during the workshop throughout the school year.
Bible Truth has a 3-D printer and offers classes in programming and robotics. It formed a team last year to compete in the FIRST Lego League.
“They didn’t do too well,” Dean said, “but they had the exposure to competition. This year they’re really fired up about doing that.”
Dean feels the earlier she can expose her students to computers the better.
“It’s the way the world is going,” she said.
While Dean would like all of her students to graduate and attend college, she knows that is not everyone will choose that option.
“College is not for everyone,” she said. “So at least we would have given them some basic exposure, so when they leave us, they can go get a job.”
About Bible Truth Ministries Academy
The private school located in the Belmont Heights section of Tampa has enrollment from pre-K to 12. It also provides day care. The main academic focus is on math, English and reading comprehension. Students also receive training in life skills – cooking, budgeting, home organization and management, construction, electrical and mechanics. Students also participate in community cleanups and assist elderly and disabled residents with home beautifying projects. Tuition is $8,375 per year.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley Zarle
TAMPA, Fla.– Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), one of the nation’s leading wholesale alcohol beverage distributors, has once again contributed $65 million to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.
RNDC celebrated on Oct. 22 the substantial donation while visiting Tampa Catholic High School students who use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students. RNDC’s contribution funds 9,339 scholarships for deserving K-12 Florida schoolchildren. The scholarships give lower-income children the opportunity to attend a private or out-of-district school that best meets their learning needs.
“At Republic National Distributing Company, we are committed to making a positive difference that enriches the spirit and well-being of our associates, communities, and business partners”, said Ron Barcena, executive vice president of RNDC. “We know that our partnership with Step Up For Students is doing just that and we are proud to help provide thousands of Florida schoolchildren with the educational opportunities they deserve.”
While visiting Tampa Catholic High School, RNDC representatives had a chance to experience the zSpace Lab. zSpace is a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) system that uses a unique stylus and eyewear to create an interactive experience covering subjects like animal dissection and anatomy, but also others like geography and history. Users can access a frog dissection model, as well as other 3D programs like simulated archaeological digs or interactive geometry. Students enjoyed showing the representatives how to use the program and the different courses that are available.
Since 2012, Republic National Distributing Company has generously funded 49,675 scholarships through contributions totaling $310 million to Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that helps manage the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations. Step Up is serving more than 100,400 students for the 2019-20 school year. More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
“RNDC has once again shown their incredible commitment to Florida’s disadvantaged schoolchildren through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program which is producing exceptional results,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “Recently, the Urban Institute evaluated graduates of our program and found students who use the scholarship for at least four years are 99% more likely to attend a four-year college and up to 45% more likely than their public school peers to earn a bachelor’s degree. RNDC is a critical part of this success and we are grateful for their support of deserving students in our community.”
Ashley Zarle can be reached at AZarle@StepUpForStudents.org.
By ROGER MOONEY
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. –During the weeks leading up to the start of fifth grade, when Cee J Knause was home doing not much of anything, she found herself singing the Short Vowel Song.
“A … a … a …a … apple
E … e … e … e … egg.”
Or the Long Vowel Song.
“I got an a for apron
An e for eagle.”
Sometimes, Cee J sang “The Ballad of the Silent E.”
“She sings those songs all day,” her mom, Kellie Mendheim said. “Sometimes she lets me sing them.”
Cee J is a student at the Mount Zion Christian Academy in St. Petersburg. Like nearly all of her 90 schoolmates, she attends the K-5 private school using a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families. The program is managed by Step Up For Students.
Cee J learned those songs last spring when she participated in the Winning Reading Boost program for second-graders and above who struggled to read.
They are catchy tunes, and that is the point.
Sue Dickson, a former first-grade teacher and Safety Harbor, Florida, resident, wrote them years ago. The songs were the foundation of Dickson’s Sing, Spell, Read and Write, a widely successful phonics-based program published in 1972 that taught children to read. A decade later, when Dickson saw the need to reach older non-readers, she wrote Winning, a 90-hour intervention program with age appropriate stories and songs that had tremendous success in jails and teen detention centers.
“If you can sing it, you can learn it,” Dickson said.
Mount Zion was used as a pilot program last spring with 10 students participating. Cee J, then in fourth grade, was one of those students.
“The program went very well,” Mount Zion principal Franca Sheehy said. “We saw results.”
Students who misread more than five fluency words out of 60 on a K-1 phonics test were included in the program. Combined, the 10 students averaged nearly 27 missed words. Only one, a third-grader, missed fewer than 10, and that student missed nine.
“I love it,” said Cee J, who missed 29 of the 60 words. “When I didn’t do Winning Reading Boost, I used to struggle at reading. As soon as I started this, it started helping me, and I love how the songs made it fun.”
Cee J’s struggles stemmed from reading too fast, causing her to miss words. Winning Reading taught her to read at a slower pace, which increased her fluency learning.
Shakeila Bogle-Duke, who teaches Winning Reading Boost at Mount Zion, said Cee J showed the most improvement of the 10 students.
“Everyone showed some growth,” Bogle-Duke said. “It was significant in others and a little less in one or two.”
Students gained confidence in their ability to read. Using phonics, they learned to decode words, rather than guess at them. Those who entered as choppy readers learned to read at a smoother pace.
Sheehy was so impressed with Winning Reading Boost that it was added to the 2019-20 budget. It will be used throughout the school year after they identify which students need the intervention program.
Why Johnny can’t read
An October 2018 story in the New York Times referenced a study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that found only four of 10 fourth graders were competent readers. A big reason, the story stated, is students are not taught to read phonically, meaning they do not learn to decode words.
This is not a new development. Dickson began teaching first grade in the 1950s in Arlington, Virginia, when it was forbidden to teach phonics, learning by decoding the relationship between sounds and spelling.
“The schools of education ridiculed the teaching of phonics,” she said. “It was just awful.”
Because she was fresh out of college and just beginning her career, Dickson complied with the school district’s stance during her first two years as a teacher. Yet, she knew she failed those students who didn’t pass reading.
In 1955, Rudolf Flesch wrote, “Why Johnny Can’t Read: And what you can do about it.” The book advocated phonics over the standard reading by sight, often referred to as “Look-say.”
Reading the book reinforced Dickson’s belief that the school district’s stance was wrong. Not only could she see that from the reading scores of her students, but also with her younger brother, David, who struggled with reading. Dickson saw first-hand the impact that had on David’s education.
“I was tuned-in to the problems that come along when a kid can’t read. He was ruined,” Dickson said. “I was looking for a way to fix it, and I found what was wrong.”
She began teaching phonics to her students, and their reading scores improved. Eventually, Dickson was asked to teach reading her way during summer school.
She realized some students struggled because they were tripped up by what she called, “hidden bloopers,” like the difference in the graphic forms of the letters “a” and “g” in written text, and addressed them in her programs.
Throughout the 1960s, Dickson combined her love of music with her love of teaching, sat at her piano and composed the songs for Sing, Spell, Read and Write.
The program went nationwide in the 1970s, and school districts reported improved reading scores by students who participated.
“It’s earth-shaking,” Dickson said of the program’s success.
‘It’s the music’
In 2015, The Tampa Bay Times ran a series on how the Pinellas County School Board in Tampa Bay turned five once average public schools in low-income areas into what it termed, “Failure Factories.”
Searching for help, a grass roots St. Petersburg community reached out to Don Pemberton at University of Florida’s Lastinger Center, an innovative hub that brings together the latest developments in academic research and practice to improve education. Lisa Langley, Lastinger’s chief of staff, along with the UF team, Sue Dickson and her daughter Dianne Dickson-Fix (a retired elementary school teacher in Pinellas County) updated Winning and created Winning Reading Boost for students in grades 2 and up.
The new program involves 36 sequenced steps to independent reading through songs and games and four books.
“Anything we want the kids to memorize is in the songs, because the songs provide the repetition to make the learning fast and easy,” Dickson-Fix said.
The lessons are put to music – rock, rap, country and calypso.
“It’s a hands-on approach and it gets them excited to do the stories,” said Bogle-Duke, the Mount Zion teacher. “The stories are not very long, so they get through each part. They’re using the skills and they are reminded about what they just learned to use as a tool for what they’re reading.”
To prevent students from stumbling over words they don’t know, there is not one word in the story that hasn’t already been covered.
“Sue thought it out,” Langley said. “It’s like a shaky foundation for a house. She had to knock that house down and rebuild that foundation.”
Why does it work?
“It’s the music,” Bogle-Duke said.
Sheehy agreed. She said her students don’t have a problem learning Bible verses and pledges when they sing them.
“They are able to memorize this information, and music helps them memorize the sounds,” Sheehy said. “You hear them singing that song later. Eventually, the more they sing it, they start putting the dots together and realize what they are singing. The lightbulb goes on.”
Mendheim, Cee J’s mom, said she was glad when her daughter was asked last spring to join the program.
“I was teaching Cee J to read, but I wanted someone to take it a step forward,” she said. “She was reading, but not how I wanted her to read.”
When told she was in the program, Cee J said her response was, “OK, I’m struggling. I need to practice.”
Cee J continued to read her Winning Reading Boost books over the summer. She even erased her answers so she could take the quizzes over.
Cee J’s reward for improving? A bookshelf in her bedroom and books to put on the shelf.
“It’s really important to read,” Cee J said, “because when you grow up, you have to pay bills and stuff, and you have to know what it says that you have to pay.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
By ROGER MOONEY
TAMPA – Trace Nuss was in the library at Jesuit High School a few weeks before Christmas when he received the email that he called, “absolutely life-changing.” He had been accepted to Princeton University on a QuestBridge Scholarship.
“To know that I will be able to go to one of the top universities, not only in the nation but in the entire world and be supported all the way through financially, means the world to me,” Trace, 18, said. “It’s amazing.”
That same day, fellow senior Miguel Coste Jr., received a similar email from QuestBridge. He had been accepted to the University of Notre Dame.
“I’m grateful,” Miguel, 18, said, “Eternally grateful.”
Miguel and Trace each scored high enough as eighth graders on Jesuit’s entrance exam to qualify for the school’s financial assistance package, which covered roughly half of the tuition. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarships covered the rest.
“We’re so thankful for Step Up and the opportunity they gave him,” said Lisa Nuss, Trace’s mother. “We wanted him to have every opportunity available to him, and we didn’t want any of our circumstances to get in his way.”
Based in California, QuestBridge is a nonprofit organization that runs the QuestBridge Scholarship. It was designed to help head-of-the-class students from low-income backgrounds attend some of the country’s best colleges and universities.
For Trace, the scholarship means he can major in history and political science at an Ivy League school while setting the foundation for a career as a civil rights attorney. His goal is to protect the rights of those with mental and physical disabilities to ensure they are not abused, a pursuit forged during his years of working with Special Olympic athletes.
For Miguel, it means he will be first in his family to attend college as he begins his journey toward a career as a doctor who brings quality healthcare to lower-income families and neighborhoods. That quest stems from his economic background and the fact both of his parents suffer from debilitating health issues.
“This,” said Miguel’s mom, Nordis Del Toro, “is absolutely fabulous.”
More than 16,000 high school seniors nationwide applied in 2018 for a QuestBridge Scholarship. Only 1,044 were awarded.
Trace and Miguel join Tommy Pham, also a former Step Up recipient and 2018 graduate, as Jesuit’s only QuestBridge scholars since the program began in 2004. Pham recently completed his freshman year at Notre Dame.
The path to Princeton
Trace is the only child of Lisa and Richard Nuss Jr. Richard suffers from Brown-Séquard syndrome, a neurological condition caused by a lesion in the spinal cord, and is unable to work. Whatever financial hardship that presented certainly didn’t hold Trace back inside or outside the classroom.
He is one of 161 high school seniors nationwide to be named a Presidential Scholar, an honor that came with a trip in June to Washington D.C. and a meet-and-greet with President Donald Trump.
“It’s just amazing to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication I’ve put into my studies,” he said.
Trace scored a 1550 on his SAT, graduated high school with an unweighted 4.0 GPA and was a National Merit semifinalist. He was a member of Jesuit’s Key Club, the Tampa Mayor’s Youth Corps and received the H. Norman Schwarzkopf Leadership Award from the West Point Society.
“Once I was there, some of the athletes were like, ‘Oh Trace, can you come to our football practice? Can you come to our volleyball practice? And I slowly and slowly got more involved with all the different sports that Special Olympics offers and got to see how life-changing these activities are for people,” he said.
The Lightning awards $50,000 to a community hero every home game. Half goes to the student’s education; the other half goes to a charity of his choice. Trace chose the Special Olympics of Florida and Superstars of Hillsborough.
The Lightning provide a suite for the Community Hero honoree. Trace filled it with Special Olympic athletes.
A captain of Jesuit’s bowling team as a senior, Trace received a scholarship from the U.S. Bowling Congress, was named to the Dexter High School All-American Bowling Team and received the 2019 Chuck Hall Stars of Tomorrow Award by the International Bowling Campus Youth Committee.
He recently competed in his second Teen Masters, the top tournament for teenage bowlers.
Trace, who carries a 209 average and once bowled a 300 game as a freshman, coaches and supervises the Superstars Bowling League in Tampa for bowlers with physical and cognitive disabilities.
“He’s an inherently good person who’s kind and compassionate,” Lisa Nuss said. “He’s wanted to change the world for as long as I can remember.”
One of the more impactful moments of his high school career came last summer during a Jesuit-sponsored mission trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. There, Trace and several of his classmates encountered children living in extreme poverty.
“Their life was such hardship and difficulty that it’s something that I’ll never experience,” Trace said. “It was kind of a life-changing moment to see how the poverty in some places in the country and how much it needs to be changed and aided.”
When he returned home, Trace wrote a note to his mom, thanking her for letting him attend the mission. Then he filled a few boxes with toys and supplies and mailed them to the reservation.
“I’m truly thankful for the Step Up scholarship,” Trace said. “I feel that’s what drives me to service, because someone is doing the service for me, so I want to give back to the community, give back to other people. I want to pay it forward.”
The path to Notre Dame
Miguel will major in premed and minor in poverty studies.
Why poverty studies?
“I enjoy helping people in that state of living,” he said.
Since his freshman year, Miguel has volunteered at Tampa Bay Harvest, an organization that collects and distributes food to the hungry and homeless in the bay area.
“I think that helped him set his goal when he realized how many people in this world are needy,” Nordis said.
Like Trace, Miguel has an unweighted 4.0 GPA and was a member of Jesuit’s Key Club. He scored a 1510 on the SAT, is an AP Scholar with Distinction and was a tri-valedictorian of his graduation class.
He also served as a peer minister and an alter server during his four years in high school.
Last winter, Miguel won a district championship as a member of Jesuit’s wrestling team.
His parents, Miguel Coste Sr., and Nordis, endured their own hardship when they emigrated from their native countries – Miguel Sr. from the Dominican Republic when he was 30; Nordis from Cuba when she was 8.
Miguel Sr. was born without the use of his left arm. He managed to find work as a truck driver until he was injured 10 years ago and forced to retire. He does not speak English well, but managed to volunteer his time at Jesuit as often as possible during the last four years.
Nordis worked at a printing company before having to quit because of diabetes and arthritis.
The couple is also raising two granddaughters because their mother is in prison.
Miguel works at a restaurant to help his parents pay some bills. He also volunteers this summer in the interventional radiology department at St. Joe’s Hospital in Tampa.
Those who apply for a QuestBridge Scholarship are required to write a series of essays – some general, others aimed at a specific school.
One essay asked applicants to write about themselves.
“I wrote about what drives me, my parents and the sacrifices they made, and my siblings, they didn’t meet their potential and how that motivated me,” Miguel said. “I see everything kind of as a competition, because that’s what it is. You’re competing when you go to school. You’re competing to get a better education to be more successful. I used my socioeconomic status and everyone around me as a competition. I didn’t deliberately think about it. It was a subconscious one.”
Nordis first heard her son talk of being a doctor when he was a sophomore.
“Junior year, he was insisting he was going to be a doctor,” he said. “I was so proud of him. Not many kids his age have their goals set up on being a doctor.”
The right situation
Miguel and Trace set themselves up for college during their time at Jesuit. Trace figured he was heading to the University of Florida.
“I had always been a Gator fan,” Trace said. “I always loved the University of Florida. I never thought these schools outside of Florida were a possibility.”
Miguel was interested in Florida, Florida State and Boston College.
Then, during their junior year, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesuit’s director of college counseling, told them both about QuestBridge.
As they moved through the application process, they were matched with some of the top colleges in the country. So, Miguel added Vanderbilt and Notre Dame to his list of colleges. Trace added Notre Dame and Princeton.
Now, Miguel is headed Notre Dame.
“I was fortunate enough to be placed in the right situation to succeed,” Miguel said, “and (QuestBridge) recognize that.”
And Trace is headed to Princeton.
“The Ivy League wasn’t even … that’s like a dream,” Trace said. “I didn’t think that was even possible. It’s been some road.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jesuit High School
Established in 1899, Jesuit High has 800 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12. Jesuit provides a college prep curriculum to prepare students for higher education. Tuition is $16,765 plus fees. Need-based financial aid and merit scholarships are available to those who qualify.
By ROGER MOONEY
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Zanaya Chase wants to be a fashion designer. Or a scientist.
Or, a fashion designer and scientist.
“I want to make products that can better this world,” she said.
For as long as she can remember, Zanaya wanted to design outfits that are mall-hip or red carpet-chic. Lately, she’s thought of another avenue for her creativity: spacesuits. Functional and stylish.
“If a lady wants to go into space and she wants to look good, I got something for her,” said Zanaya, 12, a sixth-grader at the Dixon School of Arts & Sciences in Pensacola.
“Why not?” asked her mother, Zoila Davis, who is thrilled to hear her daughter talk confidently about her future.
“I always tell her, ‘You do what makes you happy. Do what you like and what interests you and not somebody else,’” Davis said. “Just do something productive. That’s all I ask.”
Getting Zanaya to this point was not easy. It took three schools, one hit motion picture, her inclusion in a school science project and a chance encounter with an African-American female scientist at NASA.
“It’s turned out wonderful, just as we hoped it would,” said Margo Long, Zanaya’s aunt and the parent liaison at the Dixon School.
It was former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size.
Dixon School principal Donna Curry embraces that concept.
Curry believes there is a switch inside each student that once flipped, unleashes unlimited potential.
She sees the Dixon School as a launching pad of possibilities for her students, nearly all of whom come from lower-income households and attend the K-8 private school with the help of a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, managed by Step Up For Students.
“Many of our children have lost hope (because of their economic situation),” Curry said. “They don’t see themselves going anywhere or doing anything other than what they see (on the streets). So to turn that light on and for them to say, ‘I want to be an engineer,’ or ‘I want to be a scientist,’ or ‘I want to be a fashion designer,’ or ‘I want to be a chef,’ and know that the light is on, we found the switch.”
For Zanaya, who has a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, flipping that switch came in steps, the first of which was when Davis enrolled her daughter in the Dixon School.
Finding the switch
Zanaya attended her neighborhood school for two years and passed her classes, but said she didn’t feel as if she was learning anything. She attended a private school in third grade but didn’t think it was a good fit.
Life away from school during that time wasn’t easy. Her parents had starts and stops trying to make it as a family, and Zanaya spent time with her father in Miami and her mother in Pensacola.
Long noticed her niece never seemed happy.
“You could tell she had a lot of heaviness on her,” Long said. “She was in a dark place.”
Zanaya, who lives with her mom just north of Pensacola, was going into the fourth grade when her aunt joined the Dixon staff. Zanaya, enticed by the school that emphasis art and science and is heavy on project-based learning, quickly followed.
The art side of Dixon appealed to Zanaya. Davis said her daughter would spend hours cutting construction paper and, using her imagination, made things she wanted, like a laptop or a cell phone.
“She is very, very creative,” Davis said.
Step Two occurred when Long took Zanaya to see the movie, “Hidden Figures,” a film about a trio of African-American female mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA and played a pivotal role during the early 1960s when John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.
“That actually inspired me,” Zanaya said.
Step Three happened in 2017 when Curry allowed Zanaya to join Jayla Brown and Ty’Shawn Jenkins, Dixon students who are a grade ahead of Zanaya, in a science project that required them to test water samples at Carpenter Creek, measure the width and depth of the creek and interview fisherman to determine which fish swim there.
Their findings earned them the status of “citizen scientist” and landed them a spot on the exhibition floor at the American Geophysical Union, held that December in New Orleans.
According to the organization’s website, the conference is “the largest worldwide conference in the geophysical sciences, attracting more than 22,000 Earth and space scientists, educators, students, and other leaders.”
For Zanaya, the switch was fully flipped at the convention when she met a NASA scientist.
“When I saw her, I said, ‘Oh my gosh. She’s a lady, and she’s African-American,’” Zanaya said. “I do want to learn about science and outer space. I always wonder if there is more than this universe.”
Hope for the future
Working alongside Jayla and Ty’Shawn in the mud at the creek served as motivation for Zanaya.
Phase II of their Carpenter Creek project required them to identify the insects that are part of the food chain. Once again, they were invited to the American Geophysical Union conference, held December 2018 in Washington D.C.
The trio have begun work on Phase III, which requires them to develop their own questions about life at the creek and research the answers. A trip to the America Geophysical Union conference this December in San Francisco rides on this phase.
Both Ty’Shawn and Jayla, who attend Dixon on Florida Tax Credit scholarships, are excellent students, and both are excited about their future.
Everyone who knows Jayla, 12, tells her she would be a perfect fit as a criminal profiler at the CIA. She agrees. She enjoys watching crime shows, and she describes herself as the quiet observer in class.
“I like to get in people’s head and figure out why they do the things they do,” she said.
So, a future with the CIA?
“One day,” she said.
For Ty’Shawn, also 12, it might be a life studying living things.
“I really want to start learning what insects and other animals do to our world, our lives,” he said.
Long, who came to Dixon after a career in law enforcement that included stints as a police officer and a prison guard working death row, is excited to work with students who have high expectations for their futures.
“It is amazing that for all of the negative that is on TV that these children still have the hope and the dream,” she said. “As far as they’re concerned, it is possible. No one has taken that innocence away from them or dulled that possibility that it can happen, so go for it.”A
Zanaya returns home from school each afternoon eager to tell her mom about what she learned that day. Davis said her daughter never talked like that before she began attending Dixon.
“Her mind has really opened,” Davis said. “It’s been a complete turnaround. She’s very independent. I don’t have to check on her with her schoolwork. She’s on top of her assignments. She communicated with her teachers. She gets good grades.
“They really did find that switch.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
About the Dixon School of Arts & Sciences
Founded in 2008, the private K-8 school offers a fine arts, science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The school blends core academics with field trips and the arts. Tuition is $4,600 plus an additional $2,400 in registration, fees, books and supplied, transportation and field trips. More than 90 percent of the students are on Step Up scholarships.
BY ROGER MOONEY
The honors continue to roll in for Step Up For Students.
The nonprofit’s Jacksonville office was ranked among the top places to work in that city by the Jacksonville Business Journal, placing third in the category for Large Companies (100-249 employees).
“It is such an honor that our employees are being recognized for the work they do each day to create an organizational culture that enables us to fulfill our mission to the best of our abilities,” said Anne White, Step Up’s chief administrative officer.
The Jacksonville Business Journal partnered with Quantum Workplace, an employee engagement research firm, to compile the rankings. Quantum Research surveys employees and analyzes the results to determine employee satisfaction.
Employees are evaluated in the areas of team effectiveness, retention risk, alignment with goals, trust with co-workers, individual contribution, manager effectiveness, trust in senior leaders, feeling valued, work engagement and people practices.
The results were announced May 23 at an event held at the Baseball Grounds at Jacksonville.
Step Up’s Clearwater office was recently ranked eighth among large companies in the Tampa Bay area by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Nationally, Step Up was ranked 19th on Forbes’ list of America’s Top Charities 2018. It was also recognized in 2018 for its financial accountability and transparency from two nonprofit watchdog groups: Charity Navigator and GuideStar. Charity Navigator awarded Step Up a four-star rating for the seventh consecutive year, a credit that only 4 percent of charities have earned by the nation’s top charity evaluator. Step Up has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency with GuideStar, a public database that evaluates the mission and effectiveness of nonprofits.
Step Up helps more than 115,000 pre-K-12 children annually in Florida gain access to education options by helping manage five scholarship programs: The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and recently created Family Empowerment Scholarship for lower-income families; the Gardiner Scholarship for children with special needs or unique abilities; the Hope Scholarship for students who have been bullied at a public school; and the Reading Scholarship Accounts for children in grades 3-5 who struggle with reading.
RogerMooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By ROGER MOONEY
DAVIE, Fla. – Josh Carlson pulled up a chair inside the office of the school guidance counselor one February morning and greeted a visitor.
“Salve,” he said.
It was the summer after his senior year, the summer he should have spent preparing for his freshman year of college.
Josh, a senior at American Preparatory Academy, a private K-12 school in Davie, Florida, taught himself Latin last summer.
That’s Latin for “hello.”
was a summer spent reflecting on what went wrong during that senior year, and
why he was required to repeat it.
“Just a lack of motivation on my part,” said Josh, 17.
This lack of motivation was a never-ending source of frustration for Josh’s mother, Kadirah Abdel, his guidance counselor, Norman Levitan, and American Prep principal, Soraya Matos.
They each sensed a serious student inside Josh yearning for an opportunity to be set free. He could be engaging with his teachers, capable of leading the class in a deep discussion on the topic for that day. He could also be disruptive and unmotivated, unwilling to complete his assignments on time.
Matos said she would have allowed Josh to participate last May in the graduation ceremony and make up the work during summer school, but he failed too many classes to make that possible. She hoped having Josh repeat his senior year would be a wake-up call.
“I wanted to give him another chance,” Matos said. “I believed it was a maturity issue and eventually he would understand that this was his last chance.”
“I pondered the way I was doing things over the summer,” Josh said. “I thought, ‘Man, I got really step up, because I’m repeating.’ It was sort of the cataclysmic moment for me. I knew I had to do something to improve my study ethic.”
That he taught himself to speak Latin by using the Duolingo app proved what Levitan always believed about Josh.
“He’s very bright,” Levitan said.
“A different kid”
Josh never fit in at his neighborhood schools.
“He was very to himself, very shy,” Abdel said. “The other kids were into stuff he wasn’t interested in.”
The other kids were into pop culture. Josh was into Julius Cesar.
The other kids read Facebook posts. Josh read the dictionary.
“He was bullied and picked on,” Abdel said. “That was my main concern. That’s when I knew I had to take action here, do something. I heard about alternative schools. I did my research, looked up different kinds of schools. There are alternative schools for kids who have had issues in public schools, because they didn’t fit in.”
Plus, Abdel said, administrators at Josh’s neighborhood school wanted to place him in classes for emotionally challenged students.
“He didn’t have a disability,” Abdel said. “They’re quick to label kids in public school. They couldn’t put him in special ed, so he was put in this class called ‘EH,’ emotionally handicapped children, basically kids who acted up.”
Abdel said her son did act up in class, and it was because he was bored.
She learned about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students. This allowed her to move Josh to the Sunset Sadbury School, a K-12 private school in Fort Lauderdale, when Josh was in the seventh grade.
He moved to AEF (Alternative Education Foundation) School, a nonprofit private school in Fort Lauderdale, the following year and stayed through his sophomore year in high school.
“Once he got to private school, he did a lot better,” Abdel said.
But there were still issues.
“I didn’t behave so well at (AEF),” Josh said. “I didn’t get along with the students and the teachers.”
Abdel finally turned to American Prep, a private school with 150 students with no more than 12 to a class. Matos said her school is designed for students who don’t fit in at neighborhood schools. Kids, she said, who “fall through the cracks.”
Josh fit right in.
“He’s a different kid,” Matos said. “He likes history. He likes to read, and that is not very common.”
Josh passed his classes as a junior. Senior year was a struggle with most of the struggles self-inflicted.
“Just a lack of motivation on my part,” Josh said.
Josh loves to learn … just on his terms.
“He enjoys reading and studying on his own,” Abdel said. “Not necessarily being told, ‘OK, you have to study for his test.’ He enjoys studying, but when he wants.”
The proof is found in Josh’s interests.
He speaks Spanish, Latin and Italian. He writes poetry and enjoys the works of Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman. He is well-versed in Greek and Roman history and is fascinated with Julius Cesar.
“Interesting man,” Josh said. “All the conquests. His abilities as a leader was unrivaled.”
He wants to be a linguist. He would like to have a career that allows him to write and speak Latin and Italian.
“I’d like to write books about this stuff,” he said. “Phonology. Nerdy things.”
But, first Josh had to graduate high school.
The wake-up call
At one point last year, Matos said she thought her school wasn’t the right fit for Josh. But where would he go? What school would make room for a senior who couldn’t graduate?
Matos believes her role as an educator is to keep her students in school. Plus, she knew Josh could complete the work. He just needed motivation. Because he was still eligible to receive a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Matos and Abdel felt it best for Josh to repeat his senior year.
“I think it was the kick he needed, the wake-up call,” Abdel said. “When he saw his friends graduate but he didn’t, that’s when he stepped up his game.”
Josh’s grades this year were the highest they’ve been during his high school career.
“I’ve just been studying more, focusing on studying, reviewing,” he said. “I wasn’t studying last year, and that’s why I was failing tests.”
While his friends made plans for their freshman years at college, Josh wrapped his mind around another senior year of high school. He didn’t have a job, so he had plenty of time on his hands.
What to do?
He reached for a copy of Wheelock’s Latin, which he received a few years ago, and started teaching himself Latin.
“One day I was looking at it, staring at it, and I thought, ‘I’ve had this for so long I should just learn it already,’” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything during the summer. I was using the internet and stuff. I said let me do something productive. I just opened up the book.”
The productivity not only carried into the classroom this year, but to other parts of the school.
Josh spent time this past year mentoring younger students at American Prep, sharing his experience as a cautionary tale.
In February, he received the Turnaround Student Award during Step Up’s annual Rising Stars Award event. He was nominated by Matos.
“I’m very proud of him,” she said.
Early this month, he graduated.
Josh plans to attend Broward College this fall. He is formulating plans for his future. He wants work with words, foreign words. He wants to visit Italy and Greece. Walk where Julius Cesar walked.
He wants to converse with the locals in their native tongue. He can get by with his Latin and Italian and Spanish.
But Greek? He doesn’t speak Greek.
“No,” he said. “Not yet.”
About American Preparatory Academy
The K-12 private school has 150 students. More than half are on scholarships from Step Up For Students with the majority on the Gardiner Scholarship. Tuition ranges from $10,500 to $16,000 based on the student’s needs. The school has a comprehensive Exceptional Student Education program focused on the individual needs of each student. It also offers dual enrollment, summer classes, summer camps, athletics and extracurricular activities.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
BY ASHLEY ZARLE
MIAMI, Fla.– Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, the world’s preeminent distributor of beverage alcohol, announced it has once again committed $150 million to the Step Up For Students’ scholarship program for the 2019-20 school year.
Southern Glazer’s announced the incredible pledge during a celebration honoring the company’s 2018-19 contribution of $150 million, which funds 22,319 scholarships. The scholarships gives lower-income children the opportunity to attend the school that best meets their learning needs.
The celebration was held at Kingdom Academy in Miami where more than half of the students benefit from a Step Up scholarship. Representatives from Southern Glazer’s and Step Up For Students gathered with a few scholarship students to hear how the program helped them move toward their goals for the future.
Since 2010, Southern Glazer’s has generously funded 101,508 scholarships through contributions totaling $615 million to Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that helps manage the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program is funded by corporations with tax-credited donations.
“At Southern Glazer’s we believe it’s not just about serving world-class wine and spirits; it’s about serving people, said Wayne E. Chaplin, CEO, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. “We are proud to partner with Step Up For Students and provide scholarships to thousands of Florida schoolchildren, so they have access to the educational opportunities they deserve.”
Step Up helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, allowing recipients to choose between a scholarship that helps with private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.
“Southern Glazer’s extraordinary commitment to Florida’s disadvantaged school children through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is producing exceptional results,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “Recently, the Urban Institute evaluated graduates of our program and found students who use the scholarship for at least four years are 99% more likely to attend a four-year college and up to 45% more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. Southern Glazer’s is a critical part of this success and we are grateful for their immense generosity to the students in our community.”
For the 2018-19 school year, Step Up is serving more than 98,500 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,519 per student for kindergarten through fifth grade, $6,815 for sixth through eighth grade, and $7,111 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.
By JEFF BARLIS
LAKE CITY, Fla. – Sitting in the principal’s office of her twin sons’ school, Kim Glover pushed aside a couple of strands of wavy, auburn hair and took a breath to compose herself as she recounted the boys’ stunning transformation.
“I’ll try not to cry,” she said with her mellifluous Southern drawl.
After the family endured a drawn-out, painful divorce, Torey and Trinidy went from failing classroom distractions to model students, from being retained in seventh grade to posting high GPAs.
Her boys did the heavy lifting, but Kim says it wouldn’t have been possible without the stable, nurturing environment of Lake City Christian Academy and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship from Step Up For Students that enabled a divorced mom with three jobs to afford tuition.
“You can see how much this environment makes a difference,” Kim said with a sweep of her arm as if to highlight the abundance of open, green space, and the peaceful sounds of farm animals and children that waft through the 20-acre campus.
“It’s smaller classrooms. It’s teachers giving more one on one. They give you their phone numbers. It’s a family environment.”
Kim heard about the scholarship from a staffer at the neighborhood elementary school, where her oldest son, Trey, had been held back in first grade and was struggling with dyslexia. He got on track at LCCA. The twins followed after trying the neighborhood school for one week and not liking it.
Torey and Trinidy are fraternal twins, but hard to tell apart. They have the same angular faces with side-swept, light brown hair that falls in their eyes. They prefer to wear muted colors. They’re best friends who idolize their older brother, love baseball and being outdoors. Kim sometimes thinks they’re telepathic.
Seeing their parents’ marriage fall apart and being caught literally in the middle of mental and physical abuse took an awful toll.
“It got very bad,” Kim said. “When we split, it got violent. I went into a shelter for three months with all three boys. It took four years to get a divorce.”
The twins shut down at school. They were chronically tardy, disregarded classwork and talked incessantly.
“We were focused on socializing, mainly hanging out with friends, becoming teenagers,” Trinidy said. “Our priorities were screwed up.”
Torey and Trinidy had been behind after arriving at LCCA in second grade unable to read. It helped that principal Tana Norris and pastor/administrator Pete Beaulieu had known the family since the boys were little.
“We could have pushed them forward and hoped they would catch on at some point,” said Beaulieu, who had been the children’s pastor. “Holding somebody back is never an easy decision. But they were going through stress at home, and they were in the middle of searching for themselves.”
Too many D’s and F’s in seventh grade gave Torey and Trinidy no choice but to repeat. Friends asked what happened but were supportive. Teachers rallied. Everyone lifted them up with care, sensitivity, and good advice.
The twins took it to heart.
“I just got tired of failing,” Torey said.
Their teacher told Kim how Torey decided he wanted to get good grades because he saw how hard his mom worked, and he wanted to take care of her.
“That was heartbreaking in a good way,” she said.
The changes came suddenly. Kim remembers coming home one evening to Torey and Trinidy doing homework. She felt their foreheads.
Are you my child?
What’s going on?
“That light just clicked on,” Norris said.
Since eighth grade, C’s are rare. Kim has stopped worrying and no longer has to nag about school.
“They tell me what’s going on,” she said. “I hear them talking about school, classes, tests, and homework. It makes me proud.”
Torey and Trinidy give much of the credit to LCCA and their teachers.
“We have really close interactions with the teachers,” Trinidy said. “It’s nice. In the small classrooms you get a bond with all of your friends and even with the teachers. It feels like they’re one of your best friends or even a family member.”
The twins are in 10th grade now. Torey has a 3.75 GPA; Trinidy has a 3.41. They talk about starting careers after high school, although their ideas seem to change daily. They have a firm belief in themselves that Norris says wasn’t there before.
“They’re totally different,” she said. “They have goals and they have things they want to do, and they know they can accomplish them because they’re successful.”
About Lake City Christian Academy
Norris opened the school on a 1-acre lot with a 3,000-square-foot building in 1994 with 25 students. In 2000, LCCA moved to a vast campus with a 21-stall horse barn, a lighted equestrian arena, farming areas, a dance studio, a chapel, softball and baseball fields, a covered basketball court, 15 classrooms and a cafeteria. LCCA employs an experiential learning approach with farming, equestrian and video game design programs. Every student has an individual learning plan. BJU Press and Abeka are among the classroom materials. The independent, non-denominational school is accredited by Florida League of Christian Schools (FLOCS), and has 242 K-12 students, including 132 on Step Up For Students Florida Tax Credit scholarships. The Stanford 10 test is administered in April and STAR reading and math assessments are given three times a year. K-12 tuition is $6,000.
Jeff Barlis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Barlis can be reached at email@example.com.
By JEFF BARLIS
CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Judi Hughes is a serial retirer.
Nowhere is her quick wit more evident than when she explains why she came out of retirement a third time – after more than 40 years in the School District of Lee County – to be principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in this sprawling, sun-soaked suburban city.
“Irish Catholic guilt,” she says with a rhythmic chuckle, adding that she only had intended to help with the hiring process when the school drafted her.
Five years later, she’s still brimming with infectious energy that flashes from her baby blue eyes, and she’s found a way to marry her knack for building relationships with a natural instinct for being a private school administrator.
Some folks just aren’t meant to retire.
“I know!” she beams. “I’ve tried it a few times. I think I’m getting the hang of it now.”
Hughes did it all in Lee County public schools. A teacher in the county’s first middle school program, a principal, district director for elementary and secondary education. She opened a few schools, won blue ribbons and other awards, worked as a curriculum director in jails, retention centers, and drug rehabilitation centers before twice being coaxed out of retirement to start ninth-grade programs.
Now she’s the leader and beating heart of a thriving Catholic school – 315 K-8 students, up from 295 last year and 275 the year before – and she couldn’t be happier. Seventy-nine students use a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families. Step Up For Students administers the scholarships.
“This place is just different, and it’s a pleasure,” she said during a recent tour. “These folks have known each other for years, but they welcome new people in. The understanding is that you join the culture of caring and building faith. Hearts and minds, it’s not just words in a mission statement. They pondered it. These teachers do more. They know every child by name.”
It’s no coincidence that Hughes and assistant principal Bambi Giles, who spent more than four years in Lee and Collier county schools, have hired educators with a similar public school background. Ten of the school’s 23 teachers, in fact.
It’s also no surprise that Hughes and those teachers have maintained their ties. For years, teachers at St. Andrews have participated in professional development with the Lee County district, learning about classroom management, teaching strategies and exceptional student education.
“Once you’re a member of the school district of Lee County, you’re part of our family,” said Lynn Harrell, executive director of leadership, professional development and recruitment for Lee County schools. “Judi was for lots and lots of years. That makes it just a little bit easier, just like in any family, to keep and maintain that relationship so that we’re working together. Because in the end, we’re all working for children.”
Hughes was a mentor to Harrell earlier in her career when Harrell was a school administrator. It’s just one of myriad relationships forged through years of work and trust and common goals.
“Our relationship with Lee County is really wonderful,” said Giles, noting the weight that Hughes’ name carries. “They are very professional. They’ll answer any questions. They’ll contact us. It’s never a problem.”
James Herzog, associate director for education with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, is encouraged by this example of public-private school partnership.
“It shows that education is not an us-against-them proposition,” he said. “Instead it’s all about collaboration to benefit all of Florida’s school children. Hopefully we can encourage other schools and districts to work together.”
Every Wednesday at St. Andrew there is early dismissal for teachers to collaborate and do professional development.
“I just think that’s what runs everything,” Hughes said.
Some of those former public school educators at St. Andrew, like first-grade teacher Crystal Melton, get two emails every Monday morning about professional development offerings – one from Giles and one from a former public school mentor.
This group-within-a-group of teachers has helped the members transition from public to private. They’re all grateful for the extensive training they received in the public school system, but they’re also quick to state their reasons for choosing to teach at a private school.
Music teacher Julius Davis simply feels more at home in a spiritual environment. Davis, in his first year at St. Andrew, said he feels “set free” to be himself and exude his principles. Christmastime was particularly satisfying after nearly 20 years in public schools.
“I grew up in a black Baptist church, and I’ve played (music) for Methodist churches,” he said. “Coming here, the emphasis on the spiritual, this is the first time I’ve been able to teach stuff I grew up with. I wasn’t allowed to do that in the public school.”
Others, like Melton, kindergarten teacher Susie Loughren, and fifth-grade teacher Lisa Olson, have children at St. Andrew. But while the family atmosphere contributes greatly to their happiness, their choice to teach in private school was more complex.
Loughren, in her second year at St. Andrew after seven years teaching in public schools, feels she can be more creative, has more freedom and less test anxiety.
“The administration trusts us that we’re going to do what’s best in the interests of those children,” she said. “So if something goes on in your classroom and you need to focus on a social, emotional skill, you take that liberty to do it. It’s not just about getting in the academic rigor. We do it on a daily basis, but we have the opportunity to stop and do those teachable moments.”
Hughes recognized that stress, saw the anxious teachers who were afraid to break from the mold, “afraid of their own shadow,” as she saw it. There was more and more emphasis on tests and fewer field trips.
At St. Andrew, she works to pump confidence and empowerment into her staff.
“I’m happy I made the choice to come here, because I didn’t end my teaching career at a time when things weren’t going as positively,” she said. “I felt the stress of the teachers and couldn’t do anything to help them. They were losing their identity, feeling like they don’t have any choice or any power.
“Here they are free to make sound educational choices. And they have to be sound, because they have to show how it’s going to help with the standards. We give them as much freedom as we can. And they really own part of this school.”
Jeff Barlis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.