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School spotlight

Florida Gov. DeSantis vows to end Gardiner waitlist

JACKSONVILLE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday promised to eliminate the wait list for children who have qualified for a state-funded scholarship for students with special needs. DeSantis, flanked by First Lady Casey DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, visited the North Florida School of Special Education where he addressed parents of students awaiting a Gardiner Scholarship, the nation’s largest education savings account program, as well as those families who have benefited from it. “In the budget just released, I’ve allocated enough money to get rid of the waitlist for the Gardiner Scholarship entirely,” DeSantis told the crowd of...

Once bullied, now safe, happy, and thriving

BELLE GLADE, Fla. – When she’s in class, the look on Armani Powe’s face is solemn, focused. She doesn’t harden her gaze intentionally. It happens naturally. “When it comes to my grades,” she says, “I get really serious.” Armani, 12, turns quiet and a little withdrawn when asked about the bullying she endured in second grade at her neighborhood school. “It makes me all sad just to remember it,” she explains with the distance of several years. She doesn’t mind telling the story, though, because she’s happy, safe, and thriving now at a private school. A Florida Tax Credit Scholarship from Step Up...

First Hope Scholarship brings peace to fifth-grader

LAKE PLACID, Florida -- Jordyn Simmons-Outland is a fifth-grader who was in need of a lifeline. The 10-year-old has a sweet demeanor and a love for the online video game Fortnite. However, his lack of self-confidence made him a target for bullying in his public school since the second grade. Teased about his weight. Tripped and hit. Complaints to teachers and administrators failed to bring relief. In the past year, the physical and emotional abuse had become so bad, he told his grandparents he wished he were dead. He began seeing a therapist. A new state school choice scholarship, the first...
Gardiner scholarship

Gardiner Scholarship ‘a Godsend’ for Lake Mary family

Ashton Fernandez couldn’t contain his excitement. The 7-year-old was ready to decorate his yard with inflatable Christmas decorations with twin sister Audrey, and he bounded around his family’s living room with obvious glee. Diagnosed at an early age with autism spectrum disorder, Ashton communicates almost completely non-verbally. He smiled wide and tugged at Audrey’s arm, imploring her to play until it was time to decorate their sprawling Lake Mary lawn. As he did so, Arlo, a laid-back golden retriever, sauntered through the room, casually taking in the pre-holiday cheer. “Arlo is Ashton’s therapy dog,” said Jennifer Fernandez, Ashton and Audrey’s mother. She is...

Raising the bar at Basilica School of St. Paul

Students at Basilica School of St. Paul were scoring in the lowest 20th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in 2016. Many also had disciplinary problems. There were discussions about closing the PreK-12 school in Daytona Beach. Meanwhile, Ron Pagano, was weighing his next career move as he chose to retire from 36 years in the Volusia County traditional public-school system. And Basilica, which he attended as a young boy, had a special place in his heart. “This is where I needed to be,” Pagano said. “I love being part of the community. I could be the change agent...
catholic school

Catholic schools join specialized program to meet learning needs

The losses were small but concerning. On average each year, two students with learning needs were leaving Lourdes Academy in Daytona Beach. Like many other Catholic schools, Lourdes simply did not have a full-time staff person to help meet the needs of those students. According to principal Stephen Dole, that deficit made it hard for the school to identify the students and the interventions they may need. “When you think of 225 students you have and out of those 25 are struggling, that is a decent number you have to allocate resources to,” he said. When Dole learned of the Program for...
charter schools

Coral Springs Charter School alum teaches life lessons at his alma mater

News of February’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, sent waves of shock and terror through the community. Just 10 minutes south of the shooting that took 17 lives, students at Coral Springs Charter School struggled to process the tragedy. The next day, many of them went to their known “safe zone” – Joey Melendez’s drama classroom. “Students from all different class periods flooded into my room to sit in our circle on the floor and talk about what was going on and what they were feeling,” said Melendez, a Coral Springs Charter alum who is...
Academy at the Farm

Positive culture feeds Academy at the Farm’s success

Kelly McKiernan wiped her hair from her face and placed a bottle of water to the mouth of a baby cow. Her boots were caked with mud, and an unrelenting sun beat down as "Little Bit" drank voraciously. This scene could be any family ranch in America. But it's occurring at Academy at the Farm, a charter school outside Dade City, Florida, that is redefining classroom boundaries. An eighth-grader, Kelly has been involved with the school’s agriculture program, which includes raising goats, cattle and hogs, as well as hydroponic farming, since its inception three years ago. “I like to learn a lot...