By Catherine Durkin Robinson
When her daughter Xioamara Kitchen was born prematurely and with a heart defect, Deaundrice held the baby in her arms, fragile and so tiny, and worried about all the things that concern parents, especially those with premature infants.
Deaundrice, who wasn’t able to attend college and worked in a cafeteria for the local school district, knew the key to a successful life would be found in a terrific school.
As Xioamara approached school age, Deaundrice faced so many fears. She wanted an environment where her daughter would be safe and where her health condition could be monitored.
Xioamara had been born with a heart that, instead of having chambers, was one massive muscle – essentially, all heart. At 3 months, doctors recommended surgery to create different chambers. As a new, young mother, Deaundrice got second opinions and, after meditating on everything, decided to wait for the surgery.
That meant monthly doctor appointments both near and far.
Three days before Xioamara’s third birthday, Deaundrice scheduled the surgery. She faced another major decision: Entrusting her daughter to the right school afterward. Deaundrice visited schools that friends and family recommended, yet none could provide what her daughter needed.
Xioamara required smaller class sizes, more hands-on learning, and an environment that encouraged intellectual growth. One that had a nurse. That was safe.
Deaundrice thought such a school would be prohibitively expensive.
Her family lived paycheck to paycheck. Some days Deaundrice wasn’t sure if they would eat. How could she afford tuition to the private school that was the best match for her daughter’s needs?
One day, she was driving down a familiar street and noticed something new: a sign that read, “Step Up Scholarships Accepted.” The school was Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Pensacola.
Deaundrice contacted them the next day and scheduled a visit. Once she toured the facility, she knew they were the best fit for her child. The energy was one of safety, security, and genuine sincerity.
In 2005, Xioamara began kindergarten, thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up that helped pay the tuition. Teachers saw in her a special soul. Xioamara worked hard. The teachers provided that one-on-one attention and care that encouraged her to reach deep down within herself. She began to flourish, socially as well as academically.
When she needed extra help with math, teachers worked with her to understand the problems in a way that made sense. They paid attention to how she processed information and adjusted their teaching styles accordingly.
They lived the motto that every child can learn.
This instilled confidence and showed Xioamara that hard work can lead to success.
Because Sacred Heart went only to eighth grade, Deaundrice faced another hard decision as high school approached. This time, thanks to the confidence that comes from a foundation of love and consistency, Deaundrice and her daughter tackled the high school search together.
District schools in their area offered career academies for students. They knew the curriculum would be rigorous enough in those academies, but Xioamara wanted to continue her education in a smaller environment, more conducive to her learning style and where she felt comfortable.
They chose Pensacola Catholic High School.
Then came another challenge.
During Xioamara’s sophomore year, Deaundrice was diagnosed with a rare cancer and began chemotherapy treatments. She couldn’t imagine having to undergo such an ordeal without the teachers and staff who rallied in support of them both. To Deaundrice, Pensacola Catholic proved to be more than just a school, it was also family. Thanks to their emotional support, Xioamara and Deaundrice knew they weren’t facing these challenges alone. As Deaundrice entered treatment, Xioamara was supported and didn’t even miss school.
Today, Xioamara is a junior. She has maintained an unweighted GPA of 3.875 throughout high school and was nominated by her teachers to join the National Honor Society. To be recognized for exemplifying the society’s core values – scholarship, leadership, service, and character – was a special moment in her high school career.
Deaundrice’s health is slowly improving. They are both looking toward a future where Xioamara will pursue college, business and any other challenge life throws her way.
Xioamara is no longer a fragile, premature infant or a young girl overcoming adversity. She’s a strong and successful high school student. And with the support of her mom and teachers, there is nothing she can’t do.
All heart indeed.
About Pensacola Catholic High
Established in 1941 in downtown Pensacola, Catholic High has been at its present location since 1958. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It offers dual-enrollment and AP courses. The Adaptive Education Program offers support services for students who have difficulty functioning in the standard curriculum due to an identified learning disability. Pensacola Catholic administers the MAP Growth test three times a year. The school has 786 students, including 133 on Step Up For Students scholarships. Annual tuition is $6,192 for a parish-affiliated student, and $7,920 for a non-affiliated one.
Catherine Durkin Robinson, Executive Director, Advocacy and Civic Engagement, can be reached at email@example.com.
By ROGER MOONEY
It is time to recognize outstanding members of the Step Up For Students family – students, teachers and parents – for their efforts this school year during our annual Rising Stars Awards program.
Each school can nominate up to six individuals, and the first person nominated must be a student.
Those selected will be honored in March and April during ceremonies held in one of 16 locations around the state.
School principals can nominate students for one of the following:
Teachers who push students to succeed, who truly represent the power of parent partnerships and focus on building relationships for success or who embrace the importance of continuous improvement and professional development can be nominated for the Exceptional Teacher Award.
Parents or guardians who actively support your school and the education of his or her child are eligible for the Phenomenal Family Member Award.
Deadline for nominations is Jan. 31, 2020 and can be made here.
Before making nominations, please have all necessary information available, including school name, school Florida Department of Education (DOE) number, each nominee’s contact information (name, phone number, email address). Please include a short description of why each person is being nominated.
The Rising Star Award ceremonies are scheduled for the following cities.
Event locations will be announced at a later date.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By PAUL SOOST
FORT LAUDERDALE – Breakthru Beverage Florida, one of the largest distributors of wines, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages in the state, Tuesday celebrated its $65 million contribution to Step Up For Students at its Florida headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale.
Breakthru’s donation will provide K-12 scholarships to more than 11,100 low-income Florida schoolchildren for the 2015-16 school year.
This is the fifth year Breakthru Beverage Florida, formerly known as Premier Beverage, has contributed to the nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The program is funded by corporations that receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits for their contributions.
“A quality education can open the doors to endless possibilities. Breakthru is proud to play a role in providing opportunities for financially-disadvantaged children in Florida through our support of Step Up For Students,” said Bob Drinon, Breakthru Beverage Group South Region president. “We hope that more children will have the opportunity to learn in an environment that best meets their academic needs.”
Nearly 78,000 low-income students are using income-based Step Up scholarships for the 2015-16 school year, with tuition scholarships valued up to $5,677 per student. More than 1,600 private schools participate in the scholarship program, known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, statewide.
“This program is about empowering people to have choices. It’s about empowering low-income families to be able to match their child with the learning environment that best meets their needs,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up president. “We are so grateful to have Breakthru Beverage partnering with our mission to provide equal opportunity for all people. We couldn’t do this without their support and generosity.”
Denisha Merriweather, a Step Up scholarship alumna, was a featured speaker at the event. Step Up helped Merriweather attend the school of her choice. “Without the scholarship, I probably would have dropped out of school,” said Merriweather. “Today, I am proud to say, after all the challenges I faced, I am the first person in my family, my whole family, to graduate from college.” Today, she is a college graduate and is continuing her education to earn her master’s degree.
During the event, Drinon and Tuthill also spoke about the scholarships changing the lives of children throughout Florida. Since the scholarship program began in 2001, nearly 480,000 scholarships have been awarded to low-income students like Denisha.
Breakthru Beverage Florida, formerly known as Premier Beverage, is one of the largest distributors of wines, spirits and other beverages in Florida. A member of the Breakthru Beverage Group, Breakthru Florida services a variety of accounts including hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, grocery and retail stores from offices and distribution facilities throughout the state. Breakthru Beverage Group was formed by joining substantial holdings of The Charmer Sunbelt Group and Wirtz Beverage Group. The company employs more than 7,000 associates and with its affiliates have operations in 19 markets across the country and Canada.
Editor’s Note: This post originally ran Dec. 14 on the redefinED blog, which is hosted by Step Up For Students, and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education. Jon East is vice president of Policy and Public Affairs for Step Up For Students.
By JON EAST
A national organization that fights for the academic needs of black students entered the lawsuit over Florida’s tax credit scholarship today. The group, Black Alliance for Educational Options, filed an amicus brief urging the First District Court of Appeal to reject the state teacher union’s attempt to shut down the scholarship and to affirm a circuit judge’s dismissal of the case.
The brief tracks some of the legal arguments offered by lawyers representing the state and scholarship parents, but its tone is more personal. “BAEO knows from recent history that without high quality educational options such as the FTC scholarships, many of these students would never be in a position to enjoy their full panoply of civil rights – those rights can ring hollow for illiterate black students,” wrote Michael Ufferman, the attorney for BAEO.
The tax credit scholarship, passed into law in 2001, is serving 78,014 low-income schoolchildren this year. Of those, 23,268 are black. Their average household income is $23,551, which is 0.6 percent above poverty. Roughly 54 percent live with only one parent.
The Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit in August 2014, asking the courts to declare the scholarship unconstitutional. Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismissed the case on standing in May, ruling the plaintiffs could not show how they or public schools were harmed. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 similarly rejected a challenge to a tax credit scholarship law in Arizona, denying standing, and three other state supreme courts have ruled in favor of the scholarships. None to date has ruled against them.
“If this lawsuit succeeds, the results will be devastating to the nearly 80,000 low-income and working-class, mostly black and Hispanic students who will be kicked out of their schools,” BAEO Policy and Research Director Tiffany Forrester said in a news release. “But it will also be a blow to social justice. Wealthy families have always had choices in education; low-income and working-class families deserve the same.”
BAEO also said in the release it was “very disappointed” the Florida NAACP joined in filing the suit. Two other plaintiffs, the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators, have withdrawn since the case was dismissed in circuit court. Meanwhile, a growing number of leading black ministers across the state have joined the cause against the lawsuit, calling themselves the “Florida African-American Ministers Alliance For Parental Choice.”
Earlier this month, attorneys for the state and scholarship families filed response briefs in the First District Court of Appeal. They asked to court to schedule oral arguments for the appeal.