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Student spotlight

Step Up scholars sing before Pope Francis

WEST PALM BEACH – A pair of Step Up For Students Florida tax credit scholars took the journey of their young lives recently when they traveled to Italy with the choir from St. Ann Catholic School and participated in the Epiphany Mass, led by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Seventh-grader Adriana Augustine and sixth-grader Amy Vu described an adventure they won’t soon forget. The St. Ann’s Parish Youth Choir performed six times around Italy during an eight-day pilgrimage that began Dec. 29. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” Amy said. “It was fun being around all of the...
school choice

School choice scholarship provided brothers an extended family

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Tyler McDonald, 19, and his brother Preston, 18, stand out in a crowd. Tall and athletic, their breezy, no-worries attitudes are as evident as the sparkle in their hazel-brown eyes. They are All-American, boy-next-door types, the highest of achievers who say they wouldn’t be where they are now – Princeton and Duke, respectively – had it not been for Clearwater Central Catholic High School and the education choice scholarship that made it possible to attend. Going to CCC was about much more than great academics. They initially were raised in a comfortable middle-class home, never wanting. Everything changed seven...
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...

Adopted siblings thriving in private school after severe neglect in early childhood

Editor’s note: To mark National Adoption Awareness Month, RedefinED is highlighting a choice scholarship that serves children who are or were in Florida’s foster care system. INVERNESS, Fla. – There is no hiding from the nightmarish stories of his early childhood, but Diego Cornelius is grateful to have forgotten most of the details. Some things he can’t forget, like the time he smelled smoke in their mobile home and woke everyone, saving them, before all of their possessions burned. Or the time he fell from a boat without a life vest, and nearly drowned before his mom jumped in. Most of the...
Gardiner Scholarships

Military family on mission to raise awareness for Gardiner scholarships

  TAMPA, Fla. – Two months after her son was diagnosed with autism, Laurie Guzman felt broken and defeated, exhausted from searching for the right school. A scholarship made her whole, if only for a short time. Ezra was a tall, slender 4-year-old when he and his mom took a tour of LiFT Academy, a private school in Seminole that serves children with special needs. Meeting the school’s executive director, Ezra furrowed his brow and narrowed his deep brown eyes. “I’m a bad boy,” he stated as a matter of fact, “so I know you won’t let me come here.” Kim Kuruzovich, equal parts caring...
charter school

Against all odds, Jo’Keal Sweed found hope at a Tampa charter school

Jo’Keal Sweed has a quick mind, polite nature and gentle voice. You can’t immediately tell she’s been through hell. A senior at Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, Jo’Keal can’t remember ever seeing her father, although he occasionally emails her from a Michigan prison. Nor does she have any memories of her mother. She doesn’t even know if she’s alive. She was adopted as a baby, and the family soon moved from her native Flint, Michigan, to Tampa. While the weather was much warmer, life was turbulent. In Tampa, her adopted mother, along with five adopted siblings, moved often. Jo’Keal attended seven elementary...
private school

A scholarship and a small private school led a tormented girl to happiness

MIAMI – It’s hard to miss Nicole Meneses at Pneuma Christian Academy. If she’s not front and center in every photo on every social media post, she’s stealing the show with her exuberance. Her smile, so wide it almost looks painful, is full of braces. But she doesn’t have the slightest hint of self-consciousness. “I’ve come a long way,” she said. “I’m thankful every day to be here.” The happiest student at the school says you wouldn’t recognize her before Pneuma. She was bullied, depressed, and hated going to her neighborhood school. Then her mother found out about a scholarship that would change...

From bullied and failing to Hope, honors and college

GROVELAND, Fla. – The sign at their church trumpeted the opening of a new private school: HOPE ACADEMY NOW ENROLLING For Adaijah Jackson and her mother, Sheila James, the word Hope was all they saw. “It was an answer to prayer,” Sheila said, smiling and shaking her head at the memory. “The timing was just perfect.” Adaijah (pronounced ahd-asia) was desperate to leave the neighborhood school where she had nearly failed 10th grade. Sheila was a single mom with two children and a job working the overnight shift at a convenience store. She never thought she could afford Hope. But the school told her about...