Within a few months, her husband found another job at a similar company in Tampa, but he still wasn’t earning enough. The family spent the summer living in an extended-day hotel while trying to get on their feet.
To make ends meet, the 6-foot-8 former college basketball player found a side job coaching Tampa Bay Christian Academy’s boys’ basketball team. The private school in Tampa became a lifeline for the Cherry family.
Despite their financial turmoil, both parents set their sights on finding good, stable schools for their four children. They never dreamed private school would be an option, but Tampa Bay Christian Academy seemed a perfect fit.
The school, with prekindergarten through 12th grade, could accommodate all four of their kids – a huge plus for a family that had grown even more dependent on one another during the past few months. The Cherrys also liked the focus on college preparation and individual instruction.
“I love this about this school,’’ Nina Cherry said. “They recognize who needs help and who needs to be challenged.’’
When a school administrator told her about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Nina Cherry immediately Googled the program and learned it provides low-income families with tuition assistance at more than 1,500 participating private schools.
The Cherrys qualified for the scholarship through Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps manage the program, and enrolled their children. Not long after, Nina, a former telecommunications training manager turned stay-at-home mom, landed a receptionist job at the school.
“This school has been amazing for us,’’ she said. “It’s like a family for our kids. I love it!’’
With the added income from Nina’s job, the Cherrys soon were able to move into a nearby rental house. All the pieces of their life came together – and Tampa Bay Christian Academy played a big part.
“We are really blessed to be here,’’ Nina Cherry said.
That’s how her children feel, too.
Daughter Journie Paul-Cherry is a fifth-grader who likes her teachers and wants to be a veterinarian one day. Little sister Bryce Cherry is a kindergartner who excels in math. Their brother, Elijah Cherry, is a second-grader earning straight A’s every year.
“He’s on the headmaster’s list,’’ his mother boasted.
Her eldest son, Jaedin Henry, was always a good student, too, his mom said. But at his former neighborhood high school, Jaedin started making some bad decisions and his grades suffered. When his family lost their house, he really struggled.
“I was a lot more distracted,’’ the 15-year-old sophomore said. “I kept trying to be cool, trying to fit in. But I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know what happened.’’
Watching his parents work so hard to get the family back on solid ground inspired Jaedin. Once he enrolled at Tampa Bay Christian Academy, he focused on his schoolwork. Going to a small, private school was a big change.
“It was an adjustment,’’ he said.
It wasn’t until he started playing basketball at school that he really felt like he fit in, Jaedin said. Now he routinely makes honor roll, like his brother and sisters, and plans to go on to law school or the military one day.
“I’m good with my words,’’ the history buff said. “I can be very persuasive.’’
His advice for other students facing life obstacles: “Keep in touch with your parents,’’ Jaedin said. “We’ve always been close. You have to really stay in with your family and talk.’’
And set a goal for the future.
“Mine is college.’’
Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story? Please contact Sherri Ackerman, public relations manager, at sackerman@StepUpForStudents.org
Shaneka Paul struggled with a 2.0 grade point average her freshman year at Tampa Bay Christian Academy, but the 2015 graduate worked diligently with teachers to raise it to 3.1 her senior year – all while working two part-time jobs to help her family.
Now a freshman at Hillsborough Community College, she hopes to be a social worker one day.
Sheneka is one of the many success stories shared by Tampa Bay Christian Academy Headmaster Natasha Sherwood, who credits the school’s dedicated staff, nurturing environment and personalized curriculum with helping students with a wide range of learning skills and backgrounds succeed.
“We’ll work with any family who really wants to be here,’’ Sherwood said.
Of the academy’s 206 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, about 100 receive the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship through Step Up For Students this school year. The program assists with tuition at more than 1,500 participating private schools across the state.
For many of Sherwood’s students, like Shaneka, a former scholarship recipient, it’s the only way they can attend a private school. The academy is home to a large number of Hispanic and immigrant families, with some students using educational Visas from Vietnam, South Korea and Venezuela.
“We have a wonderful international environment,’’ Sherwood said.
Founded in 1957, Tampa Bay Christian Academy is accredited by the Christian Schools of Florida and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Tuition ranges from $6,200 to $6,800 plus fees. The upper school curriculum focuses on a rigorous college preparatory, with honors classes and a dual enrollment program through HCC and the University of South Florida.
Students take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills among other national exams to measure learning. Test scores help administrators adjust curriculum based on needs. For instance, when 2013 science scores showed students were performing on average with or slightly behind their national counterparts, administrators analyzed results.
That led to reassigned teachers, new textbooks and new courses. Then the school brought in two science professionals with lab experience and more than 30 years of teaching experience, tasking them with reinventing the upper school science curriculum.
Students started visiting Lowry Park Zoo to work with staff and see science in action. And science started emerging in other courses like English, which included using the chemistry of crime scene investigations while studying Macbeth.
It paid off, Sherwood said. When ACT scores for 2015 came in August, students’ science scores had jumped from 16 percent in 2013 to 22.5 percent – 3 percent above the state average. Now her staff is looking at making similar changes to the lower school as well.
The school is drawing upon skills honed by participating in Success Partners, a free program developed by a team of longtime educators at Step Up For Students. Participating schools receive professional development and software to help them better assess data and cultivate parental engagement with a goal to continually improve achievement.
“It’s a great program,’’ Sherwood said.
In addition to academics, students can participate in various honors clubs, including the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta for mathematics. There’s also yearbook, student government and sports teams including girls’ and boys’ basketball, coed flag football, girls’ volleyball and cheerleading.
The nondenominational school also provides students with a spiritual focus, offering Bible classes, devotionals, retreats and community services. The school continues to grow, with 40 new students enrolling since May, Sherwood said. But it’s still a close-knit environment, where 15 seniors make up the Class of 2016.
“We are proud of a lot of things here at Tampa Bay Christian Academy,’’ Sherwood said. “But the thing that I am most proud of is that we are a family.’’
To learn more about Tampa Bay Christian Academy, go to www.tbcarams.org