In third grade, Kiersten Covic’s reading score on the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) was high enough where it signaled that she would likely excel in English Language Arts the following school year.
Instead, her grade plummeted to “below satisfactory.”
It wasn’t the only thing that plunged. So did her confidence.
Fortunately, her mother, Kelly Covic, learned about the Reading Scholarship Accounts managed by Step Up For Students that could help pay for a reading program called ENCORE! Reading at Kiersten’s school, Dayspring Academy.
In 2018, Florida lawmakers created the reading scholarship to help public school students in third through fifth grade who struggle with reading. The program offers parents access to Education Savings Accounts, worth $500 each, to pay for tuition and fees for approved part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials and curriculum related to reading or literacy. Third through fifth grade public school students who scored a 1 or 2 on the third or fourth grade English Language Arts (ELA) section of the Florida Standards Assessments in the prior year are eligible.
With a score of 2 on the English Language Arts section of the test, Kiersten qualified. Her mother applied for the scholarship, was approved and enrolled Kiersten into the program at the A-rated public charter school in New Port Richey during the 2018-19 school year.
“When I first found out that I had to do this, I was disappointed,” said Kiersten, now a sixth grader at the school. “I thought of myself as stupid that I had to take this course.”
But soon she started reaping the benefits of the after-school reading program when her
grades had an uptick. Kiersten enjoyed the variety of methods the program used with reading assignments, writing prompts based on the books, vocabulary building activities and testing. She also found the program’s point-and-reward system motivating, using things like a prize box for students and the promise of a pizza party for good work.
Dayspring educators designed the program after the creation of the scholarship, answering the call to further help struggling readers.
“We designed the program to provide targeted instruction to small groups of learners. We saw this as an opportunity for our learners to receive additional support from their teachers,” said Wendy Finlay, Dayspring principal.
“We had six teachers teaching in our ENCORE! program to ensure that our groups would remain small and the instruction remained individualized and differentiated.”
That formula worked for Kiersten.
“I feel more confident about (reading) because we went over a lot of stuff and some of the vocabulary we went over was on the test, and I would not have known it if we didn’t,” Kiersten said.
The program was enough to boost her reading grade on the state test to a 3, a perfectly acceptable grade to put her back on track for success.
“We were really, really thrilled and relieved,”said Kelly Covic.
Kiersten was not the only one whose reading improved in the program.
“The first year of ENCORE! was a success,” Finlay said. “Our data indicates we had a 14% gain with our lowest 25% in the area of ELA. Not only did we see lowest quartile gains, we also saw an overall increase in our learning gains in ELA. Our overall achievement level in the area of ELA increased by 9%.”
Covic, who teaches music at Dayspring Academy, said she is thankful for the reading scholarship and its benefits for her daughter and other struggling young readers.
“The earlier you can intervene into your child’s reading the better because it is so vital for their success,” she said. “Reading is such a cornerstone of everything that it’s important to get this down.”
By ROGER MOONEY
Step Up For Students continues to provide education choice to Florida schoolchildren from disadvantaged backgrounds and its efforts continue to garner national acclaim.
“It is an honor to be placed in this prestigious ranking by the Chronicle of Philanthropy,” said Anne Francis, Step Up’s vice president of development. “Being ranked 18th in the nation, and first in Florida, is a monumental achievement that has been made possible by our generous donors.
“In the last couple years, Step Up has grown from two scholarship offerings to five. Our largest program, the income-based Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, serves families with an average household income that is merely 8 % above poverty. Donors who invest in our scholarships and programs know their contributions change the lives of vulnerable children in Florida who seek a brighter future.”
Step Up’s total revenues in the 2018 fiscal year was $705.6 million, an increase over its $548.5 million in total revenue in 2017. This allowed Step Up to serve more than 125,000 pre-K through12 students across the five scholarships programs it manages:
In addition to the Chronicle of Philanthropy honor, Step Up was ranked 19th on Forbes’ list of America’s Top Charities 2018.
Charity Navigator awarded Step Up a four-star rating for the eighth 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.
Also, Step Up’s Jacksonville office was ranked third among best places to work in that city for businesses with 100-249 employees by the Jacksonville Business Journal. Its Clearwater office was ranked eighth among large companies in the Tampa Bay area by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
If this graphic above caught your attention, read on. As a parent of a now-grown son who is a successful attorney, I can tell you that years ago I was that parent trying to figure how to get my very athletic, very intelligent son to enjoy – or at least partake in – reading that was not a “school assignment.” I was determined to have him love reading even if it was the last thing he wanted to do!!! For him, it wasn’t that he couldn’t read, rather, it was he simply didn’t see the need to read. So I set out to create reasons why a 9-year-old would actually want to pick up some form of text (notice I didn’t say a book) and read. Now 20 years later, I’m happy to report that although it took some time my plan worked!!
So here’s my summer formula for reading with reluctant readers!! READ, READ, READ and then read some more!
First, figure out what makes your child click. Is water sports? Climbing trees? Creepy bugs? Or things that bump in the night? Summer can be a busy time for families to fit reading into their daily routine, but like the Nike ad says, “Just Do It!” Make it a habit that is embraced by your whole family.
That’s right, mom, dad, auntie and grandpa need to be seen reading and TALKING about what they read! A habit only takes 21 days to establish and after that it is very hard to break.
(Do you know any children who struggle to read? Step Up For Students offers the Reading Scholarship Accounts for parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades three through five who are having trouble reading. Click here to learn more.)
I also know the importance of walking the talk and decided that whatever I would entice my son to read, I’d also read. This opened up great avenues for conversation and eventually even spirited debates about the virtues of a character in a book or predicting just how the story would end. Conversations about what we were reading often branched off into other topics and created common grounds for reflections and clarifying our beliefs and value.
Throughout the summer months, I stayed focused on my son’s passions and one morning next to his cereal bowl, I left a magazine article that featured a 10-year-old who ran a triathlon. To challenge my very competitive son I simply said, “Wow, did you see that a 10-year-old finished a triathlon, I wonder if you could too?” With that single statement he was hooked and off he went to devour the story and soon returned to share his plan for competing in a local race. I did a happy dance, as not only was he planning to compete in a triathlon, he actually asked if I had anything else he could read about world-class runners!
Then we set a target of books to read in a month. I should have known my son was predestined to be an attorney when he wanted to negotiate the numbers of pages of text versus pictures in the book that would constitute reaching his goal. Speaking of pictures, don’t ignore the strategically placed illustrations. Those pictures are great for connecting the story to real-life experiences: predicting what happens next and why, thinking about the author’s purpose for writing the book, and sharing the “movie in the reader’s mind” that the story was conjuring. For our plan, we finally agreed on 10 books or news articles (not too long!) for each month.
Next, pick “Just Right Books” with your reader As we went off to search for the books that he wouldn’t be able to put down, I had to make sure he had the “Just Right Book” in his hands— not too easy, but not too hard! A super easy way to make sure your child is selecting a book that they won’t labor over and forget why they are reading or speed through with little thought to the meaning is to use the 5 Finger Rule to pick a “Just Right Book,” Kids learn this quickly and for the most part it is a fail-safe quickie to help ensure you have “just right books” for your children.
Now Read every day! So armed with a backpack of those “Just Right Books,” the next step in the plan was to read every day. It doesn’t matter what it is just read something! Bear in mind this did not mean that I set the kitchen timer and had my son read until it buzzed. No way!! Do we, as impassioned readers, read that way? I tried to make it authentic, real. Some days I even read him stories from the newspaper. You guessed it, usually from the sports section, of course, or he’d read the classified ads, looking for a cheap bike, or we’d read together a chapter of one of his “Just Right Books” or while we were in the grocery store I’d give him a detailed list (ex. 2 ½ pounds of jumbo tiger shrimp) that he was responsible for finding. And I made sure he saw me reading. I wanted him to see that I set time aside in our hectic day to slow down and read. It’s that important.
Our Summer Reading Plan became a tradition in our family. Even to the extent of taking a special book or two on vacations to the beach or mountains. Now fast forward to this summer when my now 30-year old very professional, but still extremely sports-minded attorney son stopped by the house this spring. He was dropping off a Mothers Day gift: “The Autobiography of Mark Twain.” It was a great gift and great book, but the greatest gift was his words that accompanied the book, “Hey Mom I’m reading this too. Get started so we can talk about this guys’s crazy life!”
My Summer Reading Plan had worked!!!
Carol Macedonia is the vice president and founder of Step Up’s Office of Student Learning department. She came to us eight years ago after a 31-year career in the Pinellas County School District, where she rose to an assistant superintendent of schools.
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
“We are proud of this recognition,” said Step Up president Doug Tuthill. “We strive for a work culture that is nurturing and joyful and allows our employees to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.”
Sixty Tampa Bay area companies were nominated for recognition across four categories: Small (10-24 employees); Medium (25-49 employees), Large (50-99 employees); and Extra-Large (100-plus employees).
Quantum Workplace surveyed employees at the nominated companies and evaluated each 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.
It described Step Up’s company culture with the hashtag #caringpassionateandimpactful.
“That really sums us up,” Tuthill said. “Our employees are passionate about what they do. This passionate caring is why they have such a positive impact on the families we serve.”
Step Up helps more than 115,000 pre-K-12 children in Florida gain access to a better education by managing four scholarships: The Florida Tax Credit 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.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at email@example.com.
By ROGER MOONEY
The first 100 kids receive superhero capes and masks. There will be hands-on activities, interactive arts and crafts booths and more.
Admission is free.
While kids are putting on their capes and masks and pretending to be a caped crusader, parents can learn about Step Up For Students and the four types of scholarships.
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Based on financial need, this scholarship provides families with the choice of financial assistance toward a private school or help with transportation costs to attend a public school in another county.
Gardiner Scholarship. This scholarship enables parents to personalize the education of a child with certain special needs by directing money toward a combination of approved programs and providers.
Hope Scholarship. This allows parents of children in public school to find a new learning environment for their child who is being bullied or a victim of violence.
Reading Scholarship Accounts. This program allows parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades 3 through 5 who are having trouble reading.
Step Up is a nonprofit scholarship funding organization serving Florida schoolchildren that is expected to help 125,000 children during the 2018-19 school year with the four scholarships.
For more information, click on Step Up For Students or visit our table Sunday and meet Stephanie Love, Step Up’s community outreach manager, or Roger Mooney, Step Up’s marketing communications manager.
Marketing Communications Manager Roger Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.