Tag Archives forStep Up For Students

Football? Academics? Scholarship student chooses both at Dartmouth

By JEFF BARLIS

Robert Crockett III is engaged in hand-to-hand combat with his uncooperative red-and-white striped necktie as a photographer sets him up for the next shot.

On a bright, breezy spring day at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, teachers and fellow students say hi as they walk past without an ounce of surprise to see the affable senior representing the school. With his close-cropped hair and perfect smile, Robert is a star on campus.

Getting accepted to Dartmouth College has only added to the mystique.

“We need to buy him a lifetime supply of school sweatshirts to have him be the face of a Columbus alumnus,” said English teacher Bob Linfors. “He’s a success. I don’t know how much credit we should get for molding him, but he’s somebody to put on our posters.”

Robert Crockett III is headed to Dartmouth College to play football and study pre-med.

Robert Crockett III is headed to Dartmouth College to play football and study pre-med.

When Robert came to Columbus for ninth grade, it was his third school in three years. He excelled at a K-8 magnet school through seventh grade, but mom Stacy Preston, who also grew up in Miami, wanted Robert to get the big neighborhood school experience for eighth grade. It turned out to be too easy.

She knew about Columbus, where a nephew had gone years prior, but it came with a daunting price tag. Then a friend whose son went to Columbus told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship, which helps lower-income families with tuition.

Stacy has worked in HR at the University of Miami for 11 years. She’s separated from husband Robert Crockett Jr., who works for a moving company. Neither went to college after high school, but Stacy is now just four credits shy of getting her bachelor’s degree.

She raised Robert with an expectation of college but said “it hasn’t been common in our family. That’s what got me back to school. I couldn’t push my kids and not be an example.”

Stacy didn’t know how Robert would do in an elite private school, but she didn’t need to worry. According to Columbus principal David Pugh, Robert excelled at the school from day one and is taking five Honors and two Advanced Placement courses as a senior.

“Sometimes it can be a difficult transition to a competitive college preparatory school, and he’s met all of our expectations,” Pugh said. “For four years, Robert has worn his uniform impeccably.”

Robert wears another uniform as captain of the football team.

Growing up in this football-crazed city, Robert fell in love with the sport at age four. He put on his 11-year-old brother’s helmet and pads and ran around his house and yard yelling, “Hut! Hut!”

“The helmet was about to take him over, the pads were way too big,” Stacy recalled. “It was super cute. But that’s him. He’s been at this a long time.”

Dad was the football parent who coached pee wee leagues. Mom was the school parent who demanded that academics come first. She’d seen other parents put sports first and wasn’t having it.

Today, Stacy simultaneously beams and deflects credit when she talks about Dartmouth. From an early age, she guided Robert, the second of her three boys. But he didn’t need much pushing.

“He saw how I was with his older brother,” she said. “You came in, sat down, got a snack and did your homework. As a little kid, Robert would want to do homework, too, and he wasn’t even in school. We would have to sit him at the table with his older brother and give him pencil and paper, and he couldn’t even spell his name yet. That’s just been him from the very beginning. He was a different kid.”

The kind who could learn from others’ mistakes.

Early on, it was no TV or going outside when older brother De’vante Davis didn’t bring home good grades.

Later, it was the threat of losing football privileges.

“I just looked at someone doing bad and said, ‘I don’t want to be like that,’ ” he said. “I think about my parents and football. If I mess up that’s all over with. Colleges wouldn’t be interested. I don’t want to be that kid that messes up and gets everything taken away because I did something stupid.”

Before his senior year, Robert’s inner circle was mostly football friends, some of whom he’s known since pee wee ball. Some are big-time college football recruits, All-Americans who chose football-factory colleges like Alabama, Florida and Miami. Others went down the wrong road, but he’s lost touch with them.

Robert dreams his road will lead to a shot at the NFL. But he has another dream – becoming a surgeon – and he knows pre-med classes at Dartmouth will be more important than any game.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet that I’m going to an Ivy League school,” he said with an arched eyebrow and amused smile. “I don’t puff out my chest. I’m just staying focused, because me getting there and me graduating from there are two different things. I have to do everything I need to do first.”

About Christopher Columbus High School

Established by the Archdiocese of Miami in 1958, Columbus is one of 14 Catholic schools in the U.S. ministered by the Marist Brothers and the only one in the southeast. Within the Marist tradition, the school emphasizes personal development and community service in addition to a college prep curriculum that includes extensive AP and dual-enrollment classes. More than half of the staff hold advanced degrees. Accredited by AdvancEd and a member of the National Catholic Educational Association, the school annually administers the SAT and ACT. There are 1,688 students, including 250 on Step Up scholarships. Tuition is $10,700 a year. Financial assistance is available for qualified families, but each family must contribute something toward their tuition.

Jeff Barlis can be reached at jbarlis@sufs.org

Frontline Insurance helps Florida schoolchildren with a $1.1 million contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program

By PAUL SOOST

 Frontline Insurance, a provider of property and casualty insurance for coastal homeowners, announced on May 10 a $1.1 million donation to Step Up For Students, helping lower-income children attend the K-12 school that best fits their learning needs.

The contribution was celebrated at Holy Cross Lutheran Academy in Sanford with an activity helping students get prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.

Holy Cross fifth-graders learned about hurricanes and how they can help make sure their families are prepared, should a hurricane threaten Florida. Students assembled safety kits to take home for their families.

Frontline Insurance Vice President of Business Development Brian Smith (behind check left) presents Step Up For Students CFO Joe Pfountz (behind check right) with a $1.1 million donation. The donation will provide 163 scholarships for Florida schoolchildren through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. They are joined by several students from Holy Cross Lutheran Academy in Sanford who are benefiting from the scholarship.

During the event, Frontline Insurance Vice President of Business Development Brian Smith presented the $1.1 million check to Step Up For Students. The donation will fund 163 K-12 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which serves lower-income children in Florida so they can attend the school of their choice. About 90 students at Holy Cross use the tax-credit scholarship.

“Frontline Insurance is proud to be active in our Florida communities, educating children and families on the importance of being prepared for hurricane season,” said Smith. “We’re even more excited to help Florida children and families prepare for a successful future through our support of educational choice and the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program. Finding the right learning environment for every child will help put them on the path to future success.”

During its four-year partnership with Step Up, Frontline Insurance has donated $3.56 million dollars to Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged schoolchildren. The program is funded with tax-credited donations and allows parents and schoolchildren to choose between a K-12 scholarship that helps with private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.

“Since 2014, more than 570 Florida schoolchildren have been able to attend the school of their choice thanks to the generosity of Frontline Insurance. We are truly grateful that Frontline Insurance joins us in our mission to provide educational options for deserving families,” said Step Up CFO Joe Pfountz. “On behalf of Step Up and the families we serve, we thank Frontline Insurance for its continued commitment and support.”

For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for kindergarten through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade, and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

Paul Soost can be reached at psoost@sufs.org.

 

 

 

Student Spotlight: Scholarship student enjoying the calm after the storm

 

By JEFF BARLIS

The lean, angular kid arrived at his new school three years ago, whip-smart and rage-filled. TJ Butler didn’t want to make eye contact, didn’t want to make friends, didn’t want to follow the rules. Instead, he screamed, slammed doors and threw things, including, one time, a desk.

For a boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder, whose father was in prison, who grew up with police lights flashing in his front yard, maybe that’s no surprise. But the teachers and administrators at Hillsborough Baptist School weren’t going to give in.

Nearly every day for the first year, the principal, Jessica Brockett, talked with TJ – and listened. For a boy who never thought anyone would listen, this was therapy.

“I wanted him to have a fresh start,” Brockett said. “I said, ‘Look, we’re not kicking you out of here, so let’s just get past all that.’ That developed a trust and a connection that he could come down here and say what he needed to say.”

 “This school really changed me,” says Step Up For Students scholar TJ Butler. "It “broke down the walls surrounding my heart.”

“This school really changed me,” says Step Up For Students scholar TJ Butler, who attend Hillsborough Baptist School. “It “broke down the walls surrounding my heart.”

Three years later, a visible calm has settled over TJ. Now 18, he walks the halls with the confident, purposeful stride of a young man who’s on the verge of graduating from high school and going to college.

“This school really changed me,” he said. It “broke down the walls surrounding my heart.”

TJ’s story turns on the school that wouldn’t give up on him – and the school choice scholarships that gave him the opportunity to attend.

He grew up in Tampa. His father is in prison for life for drug trafficking and shooting a police officer. Home life with mom was a swirl of chaos and conflict with boyfriends and then a stepfather. The violence and threats that rattled the walls traumatized TJ and his two younger brothers.

“There was a lot of burning tension,” TJ recalled. “There was so much anger you could feel it.”

The anger became part of TJ’s wiring. The littlest thing could set him off. He was expelled from his neighborhood elementary school for fighting. He continued to find trouble with teachers and students at a second elementary school before moving to a charter school.

TJ doesn’t remember much of his childhood before age 10. It’s a dark haze that’s painful to probe. His mother, Ngozi Morris, now a single mom who works as a tax preparer, said he was always a good student.

“He’s very intelligent and capable,” she said, “but it was frustrating to see him struggle with his emotions. When he got to middle school, wooo, he just escalated out of control.”

By then, TJ had deep depressions. He thought about suicide all the time.

At his neighborhood middle school, TJ was constantly in trouble, constantly suspended in school and out. He fought with students, shouted at teachers, took out his anger on anything that wasn’t nailed down. It culminated in an episode late in his eighth-grade year in which he climbed onto the roof and threw anything he could find down at the principal’s window.

The school had TJ Baker Acted, which meant he was taken for a psychological evaluation. The diagnosis: bipolar disorder. Ngozi felt relieved to know what was going on.

“It solidified everything for me,” she said. “His father had the same thing.”

With the diagnosis, Ngozi got TJ a McKay Scholarship for students with special needs and found a private school for her son to start ninth grade. A couple months later, he was expelled for an altercation he didn’t start under a zero-tolerance policy. He made it the rest of that year without incident at a second private school, but the academics weren’t challenging.

Ngozi worried TJ would never graduate, that he would end up in jail like his father. Then another mom told her about Hillsborough Baptist School, about how well they handled kids with behavior problems. Ngozi enrolled him. She eventually switched from the McKay Scholarship to the Step Up scholarship, because she was on an extremely tight budget and it reduced her monthly tuition supplements.

Hillsborough Baptist was TJ’s seventh school. As usual, he was mad when he arrived. As usual, he was trouble.

But bit by bit, trust grew and anger subsided.

Brockett, an unassuming young administrator with a shy smile and twinkling eyes, learned to read TJ’s face in the hallways. She would proactively call him into her office to talk. She could disarm an explosion before he even got to a classroom.

“A lot of times when he releases that anger, he cries,” she said.

Another breakthrough occurred at the start of TJ’s senior year. With his mom’s blessing, he moved in with the family of his best friend, Mathew Evatt. The calm and stability there resulted in further improvement in TJ’s behavior at school.

With all A’s and B’s, TJ is planning to go to college in the fall – either Hillsborough Community College or University of South Florida – aiming to become a veterinarian.

In the meantime, he serves as a teacher’s assistant, practicing the approach his school used with him.

One recent day, he stood at the whiteboard in front of first-graders, as one bouncy student attacked a math problem. The little brown-haired boy figured it out so quickly, celebration morphed from amusing to disruptive.

TJ let it go. His patience paid off. In short order, the boy settled down and correctly explained how he got the answer to his classmates.

Said TJ with a smile, “I saw myself in him.”

About Hillsborough Baptist School

Founded in 1992 and affiliated with Landmark Baptist Church, the school serves 147 K-12 students, including 85 on Step Up For Students scholarships and 36 on McKay Scholarships. The school uses the Abeka curriculum with lots of supplemental materials, like Bob Jones for upper elementary reading. It administers the NWEA’s Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) as its standardized test. Tuition is $4,947 for K-6 and $5,432 for 7-12.

Jeff Barlis can be reached at jbarlis@sufs.org.

 

 

Johnson Brothers of Florida helps lower-income children with a $9.6 million contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program

By PAUL SOOST

 TAMPA Johnson Brothers of Florida, one of the top beverage distributors in the state, announced on April 25 a contribution of $9.6 million to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program through Step Up For Students, serving lower-income children in Florida.

Johnson Brothers’ donation will allow more than 1,468 K-12 students to attend the school of their choice for the 2017-18 school year.

“Finding the right school for your child to attend is important to every family, regardless of their income and the neighborhood they live in. Johnson Brothers is thrilled to support a program that so positively affects the lives of Florida children,” said Frank Galante, president of Johnson Brothers of Florida. “We are proud of the difference we are making in our community and look forward to our continued partnership with Step Up For Students.”

Johnson Brothers of Florida President Frank Galante, right, presents Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill, left, with a contribution of $9.6 million during Johnson Brothers General Sales meeting on April 25. The contribution will fund 1,468 scholarships for lower-income Florida schoolchildren to attend the K-12 school of their choice. Joining them is Brenda Henson Budd, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School, a school in West Tampa that participates in the scholarship program. 

Johnson Brothers of Florida President Frank Galante, right, presents Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill, left, with a contribution of $9.6 million during Johnson Brothers General Sales meeting on April 25. The donation will fund 1,468 scholarships for lower-income Florida schoolchildren to attend the K-12 school of their choice. Joining them is Brenda Henson Budd, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School, a school in West Tampa that participates in the scholarship program.

The donation was announced during Johnson Brothers sales meeting held at their corporate office in Tampa. Brenda Budd, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School, attended the event and shared a few stories of families at her school who have benefited from the scholarship program.

“We at St. Joseph Catholic School have benefited greatly from the generosity of Johnson Brothers of Florida. Their commitment to ensure students can attend their school of choice has allowed us to educate children that would not have the opportunity to receive a private Catholic education,” said Principal Brenda Henson Budd. “Johnson Brothers of Florida and Step Up for Students is helping our students to be on the pathway to achieving our school goals of College and Heaven.”

This is the sixth consecutive year Johnson Brothers of Florida has contributed to the nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged schoolchildren. The program is funded with tax-credited donations and allows parents and schoolchildren to choose between a K-12 scholarship that helps with private school tuition and fees, or one that assists with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.

“We are truly grateful to have Johnson Brothers as a long-time partner in our mission to ensure that lower-income children have choices in their education. With their help, more Florida families are able to access an educational environment that best fits their child’s learning needs,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “On behalf of Step Up and the families we service, we thank you for your continued commitment and generosity.”

For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for kindergarten through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade, and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

Paul Soost can be reached at psoost@sufs.org.

 

Brothers making great strides at Jacksonville School for Autism

By GEOFF FOX

Ethan Alexander was decompressing in a multi-purpose room at Jacksonville School for Autism.

The lights were out in the room, as the blinking and hum of fluorescent lighting can be bothersome to some students. But the sun was shining through a large glass window, and Ethan, 9, was burning off energy by bouncing on a large blue exercise ball.

Clinical therapist Jasmine Stevens watched Ethan with a warm smile. After a few moments, she had him take deep breaths and whatever anxiety he previously felt seemed to evaporate.

Caitlin Alexander says because her sons are able to attend Jacksonville School for Autism with help from Gardiner Scholarships, they are both making great academic and social strides. From left to right Ethan, Caitlin, Ashton and Van Alexander.

Thanks to the Gardiner Scholarship for students with certain special needs, Ethan and his older brother Ashton, 11, have attended Jacksonville School for Autism (JSA) for two years. Step Up For Students helps manage the scholarship.

Before attending the school, Ethan struggled with reading and math, and didn’t socialize easily.

“His academics have improved greatly and he’s much more engaged with his peers,” Stevens said.

Jill Thomas, the school’s marketing and development director, entered the multi-purpose room as Ethan was counting backwards from five in the voice of his favorite character in “Monsters, Inc.” She asked how he was doing.

“Good!” Ethan said, adding that he hoped to soon see the movie “Black Panther.”

Noticing that Ethan’s earlier anxieties had subsided, Thomas fired a couple questions at him.

“Hey Ethan, what’s five plus five?” she asked.

“Ten!” he said quickly.

“What’s six plus six?”

After a moment, and a couple of bounces, he answered correctly: “Twelve!”

He was clearly pleased with himself.

As Ethan spoke with Thomas, his older brother Ashton was roaming on an elaborate outdoor playground. Keeping to himself, he walked, tightrope-style, along narrow planks that lined the area. The day was warm and a slight breeze blew through his short blond hair.

He was the picture of contentment.

Caitlin Alexander, Ethan and Ashton’s mother, said she worried greatly about her oldest son before they attended JSA. She and husband Van, a regional sales manager for a medical-device company, live in Jacksonville.

“Ashton had horrible behaviors that are now gone,” she said. “He would self-injure himself. His escape from a situation would be to smash his head against something hard. It could have been because of something someone said or something he heard, which made daily life a huge struggle.”

Ethan and Ashton previously attended a different school in the area. When their favorite teacher, Breiyona Baltierra, moved to JSA, she encouraged the Alexanders to visit.

“We fell in love with the school, too,” Caitlin Alexander said.

Tour JSA’s campus and it’s not hard to understand why. The school opened in 2005 and has been in the building formally occupied by an architectural firm since 2013. The school began with only two students, but there are now 60 – who range in age from 2 to 31 – and a waiting list. Ten of the school’s current students are on the Gardiner Scholarship program.

The school is housed in a spacious, two-story building with elaborate skylights in several classrooms.

Still, Thomas said, “There’s no more physical space. We get multiple calls a day from people wanting to get on the waiting list.”

On the first floor are several classrooms and a clinical wing where most students spend half of each day working one-on-one with a therapist.

Students who need individual therapy have their own cubicles where they can work without interruption.

Upstairs is a library that includes a Wii set-up, additional clinical spaces and more classrooms.

Inside a music room, piano teacher Twila Miller, known as “Mrs. Ty,” was teaching student Srinidhi “Sri” Aravind notes on a piano.

“Tap, tap, tap, tap,” Miller said, as Sri, a Step Up scholar, struck the correct keys in the proper rhythm.

“We’re learning how to hold the note,” Miller said. “The piano is a wonderful tool to learn to make your hands do what you want them to do.”

Sri kept playing, deliberately at first, but gaining confidence as she went.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” Miller said. “It sounds like the piano is talking to me.”

An occupational therapy classroom features resources and equipment that help students work on speech, writing and other fine motor skills, such as gripping objects properly.

Gym mats line the floor. There is also a large swing and a “ball pit,” where students can burn energy playing with plastic balls in a safe area.

“A lot of our students struggle with communication, so everything they learn academically is in a social setting,” Thomas said. “It may look like they’re playing games, but they’re learning how to interact and respond appropriately to one another.

“Some of them are constantly fighting their bodies to sit down and be calm.”

The school also has an adult vocational program in which participants help prepare lunches for students, as well as cleaning up and dishwashing.

“We want to teach them anything that can translate into a job,” Thomas said.

A dozen local businesses – including restaurants, grocery stores, thrift shops and a food pantry – routinely hire JSA students for part-time work. Spectrum Shredding even has a shredding machine at JSA, so some students can work without leaving the campus.

School officials hope to eventually open a separate center focused on residential and educational services for adults on the autism spectrum.

“We don’t want them to graduate high school or turn 22 and then have nothing to do,” Thomas said. Students are eligible to receive the Gardiner Scholarship until age 22.

The school needs 20 to 30 acres of land to build what is tentatively called the Autism Center for Residential and Educational Services. The trick is finding land close enough to the existing school – as well as raising money for the project, which would include housing, an auditorium, wings for elementary, middle and high school, a gymnasium and cafeteria.

“We want to offer Applied Behavior Analysis therapy and really expand our vocational programs and employment placement,” Thomas said. “There’s also a residential living component – supportive living. A lot of our students will not be able to live totally independently, but we want them to have all the resources they need to thrive and live in a supportive community.”

It is that attention to students’ overall well-being that attracted the Alexanders and the dozens of other families JSA has served.

Caitlin Alexander marveled at the progress her sons have made there in a relatively short time.

Ethan has been transformed from a student who didn’t like interacting with others into one of the school’s most outgoing students.

And Ashton’s behavioral issues have improved as dramatically as his interest in numbers has grown. He also has become proficient with Microsoft PowerPoint, which he uses to make slide shows, charts and graphs for various projects.

“He’s also really getting into coding,” his mother said. “You never know. He could be the next Steve Jobs.”

 

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

 

 

Wright Flood donates $1 million to Step Up For Students Scholarship Program to help 153 Florida schoolchildren

 

By PAUL SOOST

Wright Flood, the largest provider of federal flood insurance policies in the U.S., recently announced a $1 million contribution to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The donation will fund 153 K-12 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year, so lower-income children can attend the school that best meets their learning needs.

Wright National Flood presented Step Up For Students with a $1 million check. The contribution will provide scholarships for lower-income Florida schoolchildren to be able to attend the K-12 participating school of their choice. Wright National Flood representatives (back row, from left to right) Lagaysheya Smith, Michael Giovanniello, Patty Templeton-Jones, Dawn Forrest and Eddie Curren are joined by (back row, far right) Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. A few Step Up scholarship recipients from Tampa Bay area schools participated in the presentation.

Since first partnering with Step Up For Students in 2008, Wright Flood has contributed $3,850,000, providing 670 scholarships.

“We are proud of the impact we’ve had on students in our home state of Florida through our contributions to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program,” said Patty Templeton-Jones, president of Wright Flood. “It’s a privilege to have formed this partnership to help Florida youth reach for their dreams.”

Step Up For Students helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows 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. The program is funded by corporations through dollar-for-dollar tax credited donations.

“Thanks to Wright Flood, more schoolchildren will have the opportunity to attend the school that fits the way they learn, regardless of where they live or their parents’ income,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “On behalf of Step Up and the families we serve, we thank Wright Flood for their generosity and their commitment to support our mission.”

For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving more than 101,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for K through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,800 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

Paul Soost can be reached at psoost@sufs.org.

 

A private school off the beaten path was the key to a major turnaround

By JEFF BARLIS

Kelly Perkins was in a full-blown panic when she woke up at 5:15 a.m. and her son Ross wasn’t there. For three days he wasn’t at school, which was nothing new, but he wasn’t answering his phone. She drove the streets of Cape Coral looking for him day and night.

“I come home on the third day and he was sitting on the porch,” Kelly said. “He was hiding with his friends in a golf country club bathroom.”

Kelly Perkins and her son Ross are all smiles these days now that he’s using a Step Up For Students scholarship at Gator Wilderness Camp School.

Kelly was at the end of her rope. Ross, 15, had gone off the rails, and his therapist suggested an out-of-home placement – Gator Wilderness Camp School, an hour north in rural Punta Gorda. That’s what spurred Ross to run away.

Kelly didn’t want to send Ross away, but now Ross needed help.

Problem was, even if Ross agreed to camp, Kelly had to figure out how to pay for it.

Luckily, she learned, about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students that made tuition manageable.

“Without it, I don’t know where we’d be,” she said. “Probably in much more trouble.”

Ross was a good student when he was younger. Kelly spoiled him. He had every game system he ever wanted, always had name-brand clothes and shoes.

His hair was a playground. Kelly, a cosmetology teacher with short blond hair and kind eyes, loved to help Ross change his look – hair spikes in preschool, a mohawk in kindergarten. He got his ear pierced on his 10th birthday.

“I went with the mohawk forever,” Ross said with the same Chicago accent as his mother. “I’d wear it up or down in my eyes. I’d dye it crazy colors and shave the sides and wear skinny jeans. I had really great grades, A’s and B’s. So I could do whatever I wanted.”

Things changed dramatically, though, after Ross finished eighth grade. His zoned high school had such a bad rep, Kelly decided to move to Florida, thinking she was giving Ross a better life.

But the move upset Ross deeply. Friends meant a lot to him, and he left them all behind. He wasn’t too discerning about the new ones he made at his neighborhood school in Cape Coral.

“They were just the bad kids,” he said. “I always liked being the leader, and I’m kind of an entertainer, so I would do whatever I could to up the game.”

The game was skipping school, hanging out, stealing. One day, Kelly’s brother-in-law found thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen clothes, shoes and electronics in Ross’ closet.

In the spring, he was caught stealing at the mall, kicked out of school and sent to a youth shelter he described as more of a detention center. They shaved his head. He ran away. He was placed in a public alternative school, but he didn’t show.

When confronted, Ross wouldn’t make eye contact. “I dunno” was his answer for everything.

At the end of his freshman year, he had a grand total of a half credit.

That’s when Gator Camp emerged as the answer. Ross eventually agreed to go. They shaved his head when he arrived.

Ross feeling right at home at Gator Wilderness Camp School.

The camp sits on 250 wooded acres surrounded by citrus farms and ranches. There are horses, cows, a lake – and an overwhelming feeling of tranquility. There are no cell phones or video games.

The camp serves boys ages 10-15. They typically come from troubled backgrounds, most with special needs or disabilities, and agree to attend 15 to 18 months. They live, work and learn outdoors, 24-7.

Camp director Greg Kanagy, a short, powerfully built man with sky blue eyes, remembers Ross was loud and obnoxious early on. He made friends easily, but they were disruptive. He was a leader, but sometimes led his group literally in the wrong direction.

“He didn’t take responsibility very seriously,” Kanagy said. “And he was pretty distrustful in relationships.”

At first, Ross didn’t see the point of being there. He didn’t like the chores and structure, didn’t participate in his group’s daily talks and plans. When a conflict arose, the group would talk it out until it was handled. But Ross made everything into a joke.

“I just had no hope,” he said.

In time, though, with help from his counselors and peers, something happened. He participated. He opened up to his group. He stopped thinking he was better than them.

After the fourth month, he could feel his life turning around. Kelly saw the difference. He talked more, made eye contact. Even his posture changed.

At camp, Ross became a positive force. The trust that formed allowed the campers to share their worst experiences. Their bonds become impenetrable.

“Once you get that out, you just feel so much more secure,” he said. “It’s a big focus to talk about how you’re feeling instead of acting things out.”

After he graduated camp, Ross went home and to a non-traditional public high school where he set his own pace doing courses on a computer. A school official asked if he’d like to do afternoon or evening sessions. He asked if he could do both. No one had ever done that.

Kelly felt like she was looking at a different person, but just in case, she moved while Ross was away to make sure he didn’t fall back in with his old friends. He never did.

He missed camp and planned trips with his camp friends.

During a canoe trip in the Everglades, a former counselor offered him a job at camp – assistant maintenance and grounds crew. He jumped at it and decided to finish school even faster. He earned his diploma in less than a year and a half.

“I just binged high school,” he said.

Jeff Barlis can be reached at jbarlis@suf.org.

Step Up For Students’ team member Nina Gregory shares a personal story

By GEOFF FOX

For many people, March is a time to enjoy college basketball, reset clocks and bask in the coming of spring.

Camille Gregory, Step Up team member Nina Gregory’s daughter, celebrates her niece Caroline’s first birthday.

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.

Cerebral palsy is one of the qualifying diagnoses for the Gardiner Scholarship Program, managed by Step Up For Students, whose scholarship recipients you support.

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.

Monin donates $70,000 to Step Up For Students Scholarship Program

By PAUL SOOST

Monin, Inc., producer of premium syrups, gourmet sauces, fruit purées and fruit smoothie mixes for coffees, iced teas, lemonades, cocktails and more, announced today a contribution of $70,000 to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program, which serves lower-income children in Florida. The donation will fund 11 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year.

Monin CEO Bill Lombardo (forth from right) presents Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill (middle) with at $70,000 check to provide scholarships for underserved Florida schoolchildren at an event at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Clearwater. Joining them are Guardian Angels Prinicipal Mary Stalzer and several Step Up scholars benefiting from the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.

Bill Lombardo, CEO of Monin, announced the donation at a scholarship celebration event at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Clearwater, where 57 students use the tax-credit scholarship.

Following the scholarship donation announcement, the fifth-grade students at Guardian Angels participated in an activity making a school-themed lemonade and handcrafted soda with flavors provided by Monin.

This is the second consecutive year Monin has partnered with Step Up For Students, bringing the company’s total contribution to $130,000.

“Monin embraces the meaning of generosity and giving back to our community. Our partnership with Step Up For Students allows us to support and improve the lives of people in our Tampa Bay community through K-12 educational scholarships,” said Lombardo. “We are proud of our support of helping develop future leaders.”

Step Up scholars at Guardian Angels Catholic School participated in an event on Wednesday with Monin and Step Up For Students. Students made Guardian Angels inspired lemonade and handcrafted soda using premium syrup flavors from Monin. The event was part of a celebration recognizing Monin for their $70,000 contribution to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program. The contribution will provide 11 scholarships allowing recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district school. The scholarship is administered by Step Up For Students.

Step Up helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program allowing recipients to choose between a scholarship to help with private school tuition and fees, or a transportation scholarship to attend an out-of-district public school.

“Providing access to educational options and finding the right learning environment for all students is vitally important today. We’re grateful that Monin joins us in our mission to provide these opportunities to families that otherwise would not be able to access them,” said Doug Tuthill, Step Up For Students president. “On behalf of Step Up and the families we serve, we thank Monin for your continued support.”

For the 2017-18 school year, Step Up For Students is serving about 100,000 students throughout Florida with tuition scholarships valued at up to $6,343 per student for kindergarten through fifth grade, $6,631 for sixth through eighth grade, and $6,920 for ninth through 12th grade. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the scholarship program statewide.

Reach Paul Soost at psoost@sufs.org.

KAR Auction Services makes $1 million contribution to scholarship program

 

By PAUL SOOST

KAR Auction Services, Inc. (NYSE: KAR), a global vehicle remarketing and technology solutions provider, on Feb. 26 made a $1 million contribution to Step Up For Students, a Florida-based nonprofit, which administers scholarships for lower-income schoolchildren.

KAR’s financial commitment will fund scholarships for 153 Florida children — giving them more educational options and opportunities.

Step Up For Students scholars from several areas Catholic schools on Monday celebrated KAR Auction Services Inc.’s $1 million contribution to Step Up for the 2017-18 school year which will fund 153 lower-income students to attend schools of their choice. The students are joined by, from left to right, Ross Bubolz, principal of St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Desire Gideos, Dealer Sales Manager, Automotive Finance Corporation (Subsidiary of KAR), Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill, Mike Mulvaney, assistant general manager, ADESA Tampa (subsidiary of KAR), Craig Morris, VP Tax, KAR Auction Services, Brad Yeager, regional sales director, TradeRev (subsidiary of KAR, Becky Doemland, director of community relations, KAR Auction Services, Chris Pastura, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and Keith Galley, Principal of St. Patrick Catholic School.

Step Up For Students scholars from several areas Catholic schools on Monday celebrated KAR Auction Services Inc.’s $1 million contribution to Step Up for the 2017-18 school year which will fund 153 lower-income students to attend schools of their choice. The students are joined by, from left to right, Ross Bubolz, principal of St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Desire Gideos, Dealer Sales Manager, Automotive Finance Corporation (Subsidiary of KAR), Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill, Mike Mulvaney, assistant general manager, ADESA Tampa (subsidiary of KAR), Craig Morris, VP Tax, KAR Auction Services, Brad Yeager, regional sales director, TradeRev (subsidiary of KAR, Becky Doemland, director of community relations, KAR Auction Services, Chris Pastura, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and Keith Galley, principal of St. Patrick Catholic School.

“We believe in second chances for cars, people and communities — that includes partnering to provide students with quality educational options,” said Jim Hallett, chairman and CEO of KAR. “The state of Florida is home to more than 650 KAR employees as well as countless valued business partners and customers. And we are committed to supporting the communities in which we work and live.”

This is KAR’s first time partnering with Step Up For Students, which helps run the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for financially disadvantaged Florida children. The corporate-funded program gives children assistance with private school tuition or transportation costs for out-of-county public schools. More than 1,700 private schools participate in the program serving nearly 102,000 students during the 2017-18 school year.

“We are excited KAR Auction Services has joined us in our mission to empower Florida families by helping them find the best learning environment for their children,” said Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “Your contribution to the Step Up scholarship program will make a lasting difference in the communities you serve. On behalf of our Step Up families, we thank KAR.”

KAR owns and operates 15 whole-car and salvage auctions in Florida, and provides wholesale automotive services to auto dealers throughout the state.

Paul Soost can be reached at psoost@sufs.org. 

 

 

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