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 GEOFF FOX
For many people, March is a time to enjoy college basketball, reset clocks and bask in the coming of spring.
It is also Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month – a time to raise understanding about the group of neurological disorders that permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. In the United States, about 764,000 people have at least one symptom of cerebral palsy.
Nina Gregory, who works in Step Up’s Office of Student Learning, recently spoke about her daughter Camille, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby. Doctors told Nina her daughter would probably never walk or talk, but Camille eclipsed those expectations long ago.
They have a beautiful story of love and perseverance. Please watch Nina share her story.
Please listen to Nina read a book she wrote about her daughter. Flip the pages below.
There’s something amazing going on in Step Up For Students partner schools and hundreds of teachers, their students and their students’ parents and guardians are benefiting from it: The Teaching and Learning Exchange.
The Teaching and Learning Exchange (TLE) is a free web-based application designed to support teaching, learning, communication and accountability for administrators, teachers, parents and guardians and students. It was created by Step Up For Students Office of Student Learning and IT team members.
“This tool is opening the lines of communications between all key factors in a child’s education: students, teachers and parents,” said Carol Thomas, vice president of Office of Student Learning. “And our latest update of the applications has really made some tremendous improvements, particularly on the parents’ side.”
The most recent rollout of the TLE features an easy-to-use parent portal, which enhances communication and collaboration between school staff and families.
“It allows families to stay engage in their child’s academic and social progress, all from the click of their home computer,” said Thomas. “It’s not supposed to replace in-person parent involvement, it’s supposed to enhance it.”
The TLE allows teachers to create Personal Learning Plans (PLP) for their students, customizing what they need to work on at their pace. It helps has a collaborative parent conferencing tool, assists in identify student strengths and concern, document academic, social, emotional and note behavior goals and provides parents with a live view of their children’s grades. The TLE also has a comprehensive grade book, allowing teachers to record conduct grades and create progress reports, report cards and transcripts. It even has an attendance tracker and lunch count feature. Other features include easy access to explore Florida State Standards, unit and lesson planning, and standards mapping.
Currently, the TLE has more than 800 administrators, teacher and guardian active users. Educators, especially, are finding it a valuable tool.
Said Lilah Mills, principal at Masters Preparatory School in Hialeah:
“I really like the Personal Learning Plan, especially the conference feature. I think the format of the PLP [the elements of what the teacher is doing, what the student needs to do, and what the parent can do] really triangulates the responsibility between all three groups and provides accountability for the parents and teachers.My teachers think it is so user friendly: all the standards are pre-loaded and all of the resources are easy to access.”
Susan Gettys , lead educator at Broach School Tampa is also impressed with the TLE, especially the Personal Learning Plan.
“I love that the Personal Learning Plan tells us automatically if a student has mastered or passed or failed a specific standard based on their grades, since we can tie assignments to standards,” she said. “The customer service aspect has been amazing. Usually with a software program, you install it and never can reach anyone again. But with Step Up, I can always get help, and I love that you tweaked it based on our suggestions and needs.
“We teach multiple grade levels in a classroom, and students with multiple special needs, so the flexibility of this program makes it really viable for us as a special needs school.”
Thomas said she encourages scholarship parents to ask their teachers to use Step Up’s TLE.
“It really enhances and aids the learning experience for all parties involved,” she said. “It makes it easier for parents and guardians to communicate with their children’s teachers, received class announcements and really be in tune with what standards your child should be mastering and how they’re doing in school on a regular basis.”
Teachers, administrators, and guardians interested in using the TLE or learning about other Office of Student Learning programs, please click here to reach OSL staff.
Reach Lisa Davis at email@example.com.
By LAUREN BARLIS
Many Step Up For Students scholars are making dramatic learning gains at their schools of choice, according to a report from the Florida State University Learning Systems Institute released evaluating the standardized test scores of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students.
In a sampling of the results, more than a dozen Success Partners schools showed positive learning gains from 2011 to 2014 with an average learning gain in reading and math combined of almost two points higher than the national average.
But two schools that participate in Step Up’s Success Partners, a free two-year comprehensive professional development program with the goal of increased student academic success through parental engagement, stood out significantly with their students’ overall performance.
Step Up students at Leaders Preparatory School in Orlando made significant learning gains from 2011 to 2014 in reading and math scores combined. Likewise, the Step Up students at St. Andrew Catholic School, also in Orlando, boosted their reading scores from 2011 to 2014.
In the report released in the fall, a statistically positive average gain means that most Step Up scholars in that school improved their position relative to the national average.
Step Up scholars at St. Andrew are making gains in reading of about two points higher than the national average, and the students at Leaders Prep are making gains in reading and math of about four points higher than the national average.
In the 2013-14 school year alone, Step Up students at Leaders Prep made gains in reading and math above the previous year’s scores that were 11 points higher than the national average.
The administrators at both schools are dedicated to the goal of maximizing parental engagement and student achievement, and their partnership with the Step Up For Students Office of Student Learning has supported them in achieving these goals.
“We definitely adhere to the belief that parents are the primary educators of their children, and the Office of Student Learning’s programs have helped us to ensure that everyone on the St. Andrew’s staff is focused on the goals of student success and parental engagement,” said Andy Sojourner, assistant principal of St. Andrew Catholic School.
Both schools are currently in their third year of Success Partners during which partner schools study and implement the structures necessary to sustain powerful parent-school partnerships. St. Andrew and Leaders Prep also participated in Parent Partners for Success, a program that connects their parents with a Step Up educational advisor with the goal of assisting them in navigating the educational system and becoming strong advocates for their child’s education.
“The research on student success clearly shows that when parents are engaged, students succeed. The learning gains of the Step Up students at these schools are proof of that, and we know that participating in the Success Partners program has helped these schools to improve their parental engagement,” said Dr. Carol Thomas, vice president of Step Up’s Office of Student Learning at and founder of the Success Partners program.
Schools that are interested in joining either one of these programs can contact the Office of Student Learning at OfficeofStudentLearning@stepupforstudents.org.
Dr. Lauren Barlis is the Director of Research and Development in Step Up’s Office of Student Learning and has been with Step Up for almost three years. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, and spent three years teaching high school English and theatre classes. When she’s not educating educators, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Jeff, who also works for Step Up, and their 1-year-old daughter, Josie.
Since the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship was created by lawmakers in 2001, more than 400,000 K-12 scholarships have been awarded to low-income children seeking access to additional educational options. These scholarships would not have been possible without the support of corporations who have donated more than $2 billion to the program.
This year alone, about 78,000 students are using scholarships administered by Step Up For Students, a state-approved scholarship funding organization, to attend the schools of their choice.
“While those numbers and our accomplishments helping children are impressive, Step Up For Students wants to do even more,” said Alissa Randall, Step Up’s chief marketing officer and vice president of advancement. “We don’t want to only hand out scholarships, we want increase the value of those scholarships by creating programs and tools that enhance our students’ overall academic experience.”
Florida Tax Credit Scholarships are funded through corporations that have state tax liabilities in Florida. Corporations may donate up to 100 percent of certain corporate tax liabilities and earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits for their contribution to state-approved scholarship funding organizations such as Step Up. By law, Step Up must use at least 97 percent of the corporate contributions for scholarship funds; up to 3 percent of the remaining funds may go to administrative costs.
This small administrative fund has never been sufficient to enable Step Up to provide the level of service families and schools deserve, which is why Step Up has always raised private funds to support its efforts, Step Up leaders say. This is why Step Up is redoubling these fundraising efforts through a new initiative called Stepping Beyond, Boosting Success.
“This new fundraising effort will help students maximize the impact of their Step Up scholarship and help them reach their full potential,” said Randall, who is leading this effort. “These additional dollars will help provide much-needed support services for our scholars. We plan on providing tools for students, parents, and teachers to work together to enhance the child’s success.”
This new fundraising initiative will seek out philanthropic individuals, corporations and foundations that cannot donate through the tax credit program, but have an interest in Step Up’s quest to provide more and better educational options for all disadvantaged children.
Through its Office of Student Learning, Step Up offers educational support services and professional development to strengthen partnerships between home and school. As part of the Stepping Beyond, Boosting Success initiative, Step Up will build upon these initiatives to better ensure all scholarship students are receiving the quality education that best meets their needs.
“’Every child deserves a chance to succeed’ is one of our most important values,” Randall said. “We want to bolster that chance.”