Author Archive | Sherri Ackerman

This Tampa Bay Christian school looks to lift student achievement

Note: This post first appeared on “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship.”

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.

Shaneka Paul

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. Continue Reading →

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School choice scholarship put award-winning option within reach

Note: This post initially appeared on “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship.” Step Up For Students also hosts redefinED.

It didn’t take long for Jenna Rogers to realize her son’s neighborhood school wasn’t working for him. A kindergartner at the time, Hayden Hernandez wasn’t grasping basic reading and writing skills. And he didn’t like interacting with classmates.

“He was really struggling there,’’ Rogers said of the Clearwater school, rated a D then by the state.

With Hayden’s little sister, Cambria Rogers,  starting kindergarten the following year, Rogers knew she had to act fast. She applied to every Pinellas County fundamental school she could during that district’s school choice lottery.

“We went on all the waiting lists,’’ Rogers said, but the siblings never won seats.

Then Roger’s mother heard about Step Up For Students and one of the programs the nonprofit helps administer: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children. Rogers, a single parent who works full time for a communications company, qualified for the scholarship and soon began researching education options.

Finally, she could choose a school based on her children’s needs – not their ZIP code.Cambria Hayden

“I am so grateful for this program,’’ said Rogers, who selected St. Petersburg Christian School, a high-performing K-8 private school and recipient of a National Blue Ribbon Award in 2003. “I don’t even know how I could do this without Step Up For Students.’’

The scholarship covers more than half of the school’s annual $7,920 to $10,095 annual tuition, with Rogers – and a little help from her mother – making up the difference in monthly installments. It’s hard, Rogers said, but worth it. Her children have the opportunity of a lifetime to attend a school that challenges and nurtures them.

“St. Petersburg Christian has received so many positive reviews from other parents,’’ Rogers said. “They also have an excellent reading program. I also love how they give my children a solid Christian foundation. I believe that is very important, especially in today’s society.’’ Continue Reading →

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School choice scholarship placed award-winning option within reach

This post first appeared on Step Up For Students’ “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship” blog.

It didn’t take long for Jenna Rogers to realize her son’s neighborhood school wasn’t working for him. A kindergartner at the time, Hayden Hernandez wasn’t grasping basic reading and writing skills. And he didn’t like interacting with classmates.

“He was really struggling there,’’ Rogers said of the Clearwater school, rated a D then by the state.

With Hayden’s little sister, Cambria Rogers,  starting kindergarten the following year, Rogers knew she had to act fast. She applied to every Pinellas County fundamental school she could during that district’s school choice lottery.

“We went on all the waiting lists,’’ Rogers said, but the siblings never won seats.

Then Roger’s mother heard about Step Up For Students and one of the programs the nonprofit helps administer: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children. Rogers, a single parent who works full time for a communications company, qualified for the scholarship and soon began researching education options. (Step Up For Students also hosts this blog.)

Finally, she could choose a school based on her children’s needs – not their ZIP code.Cambria Hayden

“I am so grateful for this program,’’ said Rogers, who selected St. Petersburg Christian School, a high-performing K-8 private school and recipient of a National Blue Ribbon Award in 2003. “I don’t even know how I could do this without Step Up For Students.’’

The scholarship covers more than half of the school’s annual $7,920 to $10,095 annual tuition, with Rogers – and a little help from her mother – making up the difference in monthly installments. It’s hard, Rogers said, but worth it. Her children have the opportunity of a lifetime to attend a school that challenges and nurtures them.

“St. Petersburg Christian has received so many positive reviews from other parents,’’ Rogers said. “They also have an excellent reading program. I also love how they give my children a solid Christian foundation. I believe that is very important, especially in today’s society.’’ Continue Reading →

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A ‘really special’ school, plus some extra help

Note: This student spotlight originally appeared on Step Up For Students’ “Stepping Beyond the Scholarship” blog.  Step Up For Students is also host of redefinED.

Liam Thomas has Down syndrome and benefits from weekly occupational and speech therapies. But the 9-year-old whirl of energy wants to do what other kids do at school like walk down the hall with friends, eat lunch in the cafeteria and sit at his own desk.

He gets all of that and more at Morning Star School, a small, private Catholic school in Pinellas Park that serves students with special needs.

“He loves it!’’ said Liam’s mom, Stacey Thomas, a licensed speech therapist who discovered the school while interning as a graduate student.Stacey and Liam family photo

Because of his disability, Liam qualified for the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) through Step Up For Students. The state-funded program works like an educational savings account, letting Liam’s parents choose how to spend the additional dollars – on average, about $10,000 a year per child – from approved options.

Liam’s scholarship covers Morning Star’s annual $9,850 tuition and another $855 in dues and fees for books, technology, speech evaluations and more. Money left over can go toward future expenses, including college. Families are eligible based on their children’s need, not household income. Continue Reading →

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Making academic progress at an ACE Academy

shawnayShawnay Glenn’s neighborhood school seemed like a good fit as she began her formal education.

Prekindergarten through first grade were good years for the little girl with the big smile, her mother recalled. But by second grade, there were signs of struggle.

“We started getting called in for conferences,’’ Melody Rodriguez said. “I had always heard, ‘She’s wonderful. We love her.’ ’’

But now teachers also were telling her Shawnay was having a hard time with reading and math.

So the single mom devoted more time toward sharpening Shawnay’s skills. They shared books and focused on telling stories to bolster Shawnay’s reading comprehension and memory. They practiced addition and subtraction relentlessly. Still, a third-grade state assessment showed Shawnay wasn’t improving – she was falling further behind.

“And I said to myself, ‘If she’s struggling now, in elementary school, what’s going to happen in middle school?’ ’’ Rodriguez said. “I’ve got to see if I can turn this around.’’

Mother and daughter continued to study together. But when Shawnay started sixth grade, they agreed to try something new. Continue Reading →

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School choice scholarship helped her get the support she needed

School choice scholarship keyante

Keyante

Of the 11 children Dorothy Stephenson has raised – two hers and the rest relatives – all but one attended Orange County public schools.

“They did really well,” Dorothy said. “They all got their diplomas.”

But niece Keyante Scott, diagnosed with a learning disability, couldn’t keep pace with her neighborhood elementary school peers – and her teachers couldn’t seem to help.

“They just kept retaining her,” said Dorothy, a reimbursement specialist for 4C Community Coordinated Child Care in Orlando.

When Keyante was headed into the sixth grade – and another year of struggles – her aunt searched for options. A private school with small classes and a strong academic focus seemed like the perfect solution, until Dorothy, a single parent, saw the price tag.

That’s when she discovered she could receive tuition assistance with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program Step Up For Students helps administer.

After qualifying, Dorothy enrolled Keyante into Bridge to Independence, a college-preparatory private school in Orlando that accepts the scholarship.

“I liked what I saw,” Dorothy said. Continue Reading →

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School choice scholarship helps family overcome tragedy

Derek SchroederAfter a decade of their son using a Step Up For Students school choice scholarship, Lisa and Michael Schroeder wanted another student to benefit from the opportunity.

So with their family-owned radio station back on solid ground, the couple decided not to reapply for the tuition assistance that helped keep their son, Derek, enrolled at Trinitas Christian School in Pensacola since kindergarten.

“Things were turning around for us, financially,’’ Lisa said.

But shortly after Derek began his sophomore year in 2011, his father, who managed the radio station, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died three months later.

“Everything went upside down,’’ recalled Lisa, who works as a special events coordinator at the small private school that graduated her two older sons (who weren’t on scholarship). Continue Reading →

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Thanks to school choice scholarship, “he’s where he needs to be”

The BluesWhen Julie Blue agreed to be a foster parent to brothers Logan and Mason, she knew she wanted to send them to a high-performing school.

Blue attended a private elementary school as a child and later worked as a private school P.E. coach after a decade employed by Broward County public schools.

A private education with individual instruction and a safe environment seemed the best fit for the boys, who had been abused and neglected by their biological family before social workers took custody.

Today, the children are legally Blue’s sons and enrolled in Calvary Christian Academy, a private pre-K-12 school in Fort Lauderdale. Logan is a third-grader catching up quickly with his peers and Mason is thriving in a pre-K class.

“To be able to give them this same opportunity is a gift,’’ said Blue, a single parent who relies on tuition assistance from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a parental school choice program administered by Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog). “I would not be able to send them to this school without it.’’

Logan, who just turned 10, received a full scholarship this year. The award covers roughly half of the academy’s $8,500 annual tuition plus fees. Blue pays about $6,500 for Mason, 4, who will become a Step Up scholar next school year when he is a kindergartner.

The private school price tag is an adjustment, said Blue, a swim school operator. She works harder growing her business, rarely eats out, rents movies instead of going to the theater and shops with coupons.

“It’s a sacrifice,’’ she said, “but it doesn’t feel like one when you see the fruits of your labor.’’

Continue Reading →