fbpx

Student spotlight

Teen rises above spina bifida, earns academic scholarship to Florida Tech

Tears tumbled down Tiffanie Kowalik’s cheeks as she tried to hold her camera phone steady and focus on documenting her firstborn son, Skieler, reading aloud his acceptance letter to the Florida Institute of Technology. When he got to the total value of his scholarship – $83,440 over four years – she could hold back no longer, as bursting pride, joy, relief, and memories flooded her mind. Skieler was born with spina bifida with lipomeningocele. Doctors did not think he would be able to walk or use the bathroom by himself. He endured five surgeries on his lower back, grueling physical therapy,...

Special needs scholarship helps student stand on his own

Editor’s note: This month, redefinED is revisiting stories that shine a light on extraordinary students. Today’s spotlight, first published in August 2016, tells the story of an orphaned, medically challenged child whose life was transformed by loving foster parents and a Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs . For nearly three years, starting before his third birthday, Malachi lived in an orphanage in Adama, in central Ethiopia. Born with spina bifida, a birth defect that causes leg weakness and limits mobility, he had to crawl across the orphanage’s concrete floors. The orphans shared clothes from a communal closet and he rarely wore...

From rebellious to role model, thanks to a Florida charter school

Editor’s note: This month, redefinED is revisiting stories that shine a light on extraordinary students. Today’s spotlight, first published in December 2017, tells the story of a feisty Orlando teen who evolved from drama queen to top student. ORLANDO – Mia Freytas navigates the hallways of Renaissance Charter School at Hunter’s Creek like a rock star, high-fiving teachers, blowing kisses to first-graders who rush up to hug her, and leaning in close to girls who grab her hands and whisper secrets. Bobbing along the bustling corridors during class change, the bubbly 14-year-old, auburn curls bouncing, hustles so she won’t be late. These days, it’s...

Science project, hit movie has scholar reaching for the stars

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Zanaya Chase wants to be a fashion designer. Or a scientist.  Or, a fashion designer and a scientist. For as long as she can remember, Zanaya has dreamed of designing outfits that are mall-hip or red carpet-chic. Lately, her creativity is leading her in a new direction: spacesuits. Functional and stylish. “If a lady wants to go into space and she wants to look good, I got something for her,” said Zanaya, a sixth-grader at the Dixon School of Arts & Sciences in Pensacola. “Why not?” is her mother’s response. “I always tell her, ‘You do what makes you happy. Do what you like and what...

Jacksonville private school, scholarship fueled student’s emotional turnaround

Editor’s note: This month, redefinED is revisiting stories that shine a light on extraordinary students. Today’s spotlight, first published in March 2017, tells the story of a Jacksonville youth who overcame great obstacles to get his life on track. Lost. That’s where Pamela Howard feared her son, Malik Ferrell, would end up after years of struggles at different schools in Jacksonville. She couldn’t afford to let that happen. Malik needed a caring environment, especially after he and his family were rocked by the murder of his older brother, Derrell Baker. Pamela had been searching for the right fit for Malik – four different...

Latin, Julius Caesar and a second chance at senior year

DAVIE, Fla. – Josh Carlson pulled up a chair in his guidance counselor’s office at American Preparatory Academy, turned and greeted a visitor. “Salve,” he said, which is Latin for “hello.” The previous summer, the one he should have spent preparing for his freshman year of college, he taught himself Latin – and reflecting on what went wrong the year he attempted 12th grade for the first time. His conclusion: “Just a lack of motivation on my part.” At least three people close to Josh – his mother, Kadirah Abdel, his principal, Soraya Matos, and his guidance counselor, Norman Levitan – agree. Each...

Charter school ‘Nerds’ head to National Science Olympiad

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They may call themselves “The Nerds,” but to their peers at the River City Science Academy charter school, the group of 15 dedicated bookworms is as celebrated as any championship-level athletics team. On Saturday, River City’s science team will compete for the second consecutive year at the Science Olympiad National Tournament held at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. River City’s squad is one of two teams from Florida, and one of 60 middle school teams from around the country that will compete, along with a Japanese team also vying for the championship. There are nearly 8,000 Science...

Customized education reaps benefits for Jacksonville teen

When Kayla Fudge was a newborn, her mother struggled to take care of her. In swooped Kayla’s great aunt Glendora like a guardian angel. She loved. She nurtured. And she taught. A public school teacher for 14 years, Glendora Jackson-Fudge raised three children of her own before adopting Kayla when she was 2. Glendora and husband Michael Fudge, a landscaper for 30 years, didn’t have much money. But as parents they were full of fun, wisdom, and old-school values. “They’re mom and dad to me,” said Kayla, who was born and raised in Jacksonville. “They didn’t have to take me, they...