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Leaders of Tomorrow: How a Virtual Speaker Series at Pathways Winnipeg is Empowering Youth

This article first appeared on the website of our grantee partner Pathways to Education Canada. It is shared with permission. 

When students see themselves represented in role models, it helps to shape their self-belief and exposes them to a range of possible career paths—helping them to become the next generation of leaders in their own community and beyond.

Being a role model for youth was one of the reasons Claudette Lavallee wanted to work with young people when she became a Student Parent Support Worker at Pathways Winnipeg.

“I never had a voice when I was younger, and I always wished that I had somebody to support me and advocate for me,” Claudette says.

At Pathways Winnipeg, Claudette delivers relevant programming and one-on-one supports to help students overcome the barriers to education they face.

At the Winnipeg program location, 66 percent of students self-identified as Indigenous during the 2019-2020 school year—making representation of Indigenous role models essential for the youth they serve.

Last year, when social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic kept youth at home, Claudette wanted to find a way to help students cope with the anxiousness many reported feeling by creating a safe and welcoming setting virtually.

“We were trying different things to keep them involved—they were in a new environment online, but we wanted them to be able to talk with other people, to see other people.”

Claudette invited Shanley Spence—an Indigenous community advocate and public speaker—to give a virtual talk. Shanley shared how she dealt with her own anxiousness and extreme shyness growing up and gave tips on how to feel more confident.

“The students loved it. They really enjoyed her talk,” says Claudette. “I got lots of good feedback from the students and from parents and guardians as well.”

With the students engaged, Claudette began organizing weekly virtual talks with other prominent Indigenous figures, including sports team coaches, political representatives, and business leaders—all of whom had overcome their own adversities on their path to success.

Claudette also hopes to empower more students with different life experiences through the speaker series.

“We have a lot of newcomer students in the program so I’m lining up a few guest speakers who can share their experience of being a newcomer to Canada,” says Claudette.

She believes that initiatives like this speaker series are setting young people up for success by introducing them to a variety of positive role models.

“I think everybody should have somebody to look up to. Having a person there to guide you is so important, it changes people’s lives.”


Pathways to Education provides youth from low-income communities with the resources they need to graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty.

Johnson Scholars Program Helps 110 from Class of 2021 Go to College

The Johnson Scholars Program of the School District of Palm Beach County is celebrating its 110 graduates of the class of 2021 who earned scholarships as a jumpstart to their post-secondary careers.  This year 100 percent of the program’s seniors will graduate with a guaranteed 2-Year Florida Prepaid Scholarship.  Each also accomplished 100 percent completion of their College Readiness Portfolios, successfully earning their college readiness graduation cords.

Working with Take Stock in Children (TSIC) in providing more than 500 students with college readiness, mentorship, and social emotional support has exposed many of our students to further opportunities to ensure access to their post-secondary dreams of attending a college or university.  TSIC boasts providing this year’s class of graduates with nearly $1 million in scholarships. Many top scholars throughout Palm Beach County of the Johnson Scholars Program and Take Stock in Children collaboration earned prestigious scholarship awards, including the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship, George Snow Scholarship, FAU’s Kelly/Strul Scholarship, TeamWork Education Foundation, Leaders 4 Life, QuestBridge, Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarships.  The Johnson Scholars Program and Take Stock in Children will continue to support these scholars as they work toward completion of their post-secondary education.

We congratulate all of our scholars from the Class of 2021!

Dustin LaPlatte

Florida Bright Futures recipients: Katherine Benedetti, Boca Raton High School, attending Valencia College; Chanelle Brown, John I. Leonard High School, attending Palm Beach State College; Daniel Dorvil, FAU High School, attending Florida Atlantic University; Ysabel Fierro, Santaluces High School, attending Florida International University; Antoine Garvey, Atlantic High School, attending Florida Atlantic University; Dustin LaPlatte, Jupiter High School, attending University of Florida; Melanie Rivera, Jupiter High School, attending Florida State University; Robertha Sainvil, Palm Beach Gardens High School, attending Florida International University; Varun Toot, Forest Hill High School, attending Nova Southeastern University; Valeria Urrego-Hernandez, Jupiter High School, attending University of Florida.

Hana Ali

Community Foundation Scholarship  recipients: Hana Ali, Lake Worth High School, attending University of Florida, Itzel Diez,  Glades Central High School, attending Florida State University; Annabelle Garcia, Lake Worth High School, attending Palm Beach State College; Osinachi Nwosu, Lake Worth High School, attending University of Chicago; Micaela Miguel Ramirez, Lake Worth High School, attending University of Florida; Khurram Shams, Lake Worth High School, attending University of Florida.

Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship recipients of the University of Florida: Hana Ali, Lake Worth High School; Dustin LaPlatte, Jupiter High School; Khurram Shams, Lake Worth High School; Valeria Urrego-Hernandez, Jupiter High School.

George Snow Scholarship recipient: Rebecca Siverain, Pahokee High School, attending Lindenwood University.

Rebecca Siverain

Take Stock in Children Leaders 4 Life Scholarship and Quest Bridge Scholarship recipient: Jasmine Calderon, Pahokee High School, attending Emory University.

Team Work Education Foundation Scholarship recipients: Gerardo Albor, Glades Central High School, attending Palm Beach State College; Hana Ali, Lake Worth High School, attending University of Florida; Dustin LaPlatte, Jupiter High School, attending University of Florida; Macaela Miguel Rameriz, Lake Worth High School, attending Florida State University; Pamela Perez, Pahokee High School, attending Palm Beach State College; Jason Sargento-Guzman, Lake Worth High School, attending University of North Florida; Varun Toot, Forest Hill High School, attending Nova Southeastern University.

Victoria Armand

Florida Atlantic University Kelly/Strul Scholarship recipient: Victoria Armand, Santaluces High School, attending Florida Atlantic University.

 


Gbolade George is a Resource Teacher with the School District of Palm Beach County’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock program.

Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.


Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

The Importance of Professional Development Opportunities Outside the Classroom

The following article first appeared on the website of Dalhousie University’s Global Health Office, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. It is shared here with permission. 

As a first-year speech-language pathology student, I appreciate finding different ways to learn more about the profession outside of the classroom. This year I was able to become a student with Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC). As a student associate, I am able to access a vast collection of resources related to the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology. These resources include professional development events, access to journals, and supplies for developing advocacy.

I had the privilege to attend my first professional development event on World Hearing Day (March 3). As speech-language pathologists often work closely with audiologists to assist clients, these types of opportunities allow me to gain insight into the profession. The webinar, Starting the Conversation: What the WHO World Report on Hearing Means for Canada, highlighted the importance of advocating for the hearing screening of infants, school-age children, and adults. The information shared by the presenters gave me a better understanding of the services provided by audiologists and why individuals should have their hearing checked at different phases of their lives.

With the school semester recently coming to an end, I look forward to continuing to educate myself on topics relevant to the speech-language pathology and audiology fields through events hosted by SAC. As May is Speech and Hearing Month in Canada, I hope to participate in many more opportunities that will enhance my understanding of communication health.

Finally, I can’t wait to eventually go to a SAC event in person! I am hopeful that I will be able to attend next year’s Speech-Language Pathology Conference in Vancouver, BC. This occasion would be an amazing opportunity to network and learn more about the current research pertaining to the field.

Thank you to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Global Health Office for helping me access professional development opportunities as I continue my studies. For more information on these opportunities please visit the Global Health Office Diversity website.


Halle Loyek is a student in the Dalhousie University School of Communication Sciences and Disorders studying Speech-Language Pathology. She is from Red Deer, Alberta.

Valedictorian: Grateful for the Experience of Having Failed

Hana Ali is a Johnson Take Stock Program participant graduating this spring as Valedictorian of Lake Worth Community High School. On her way to attending the University of Florida, she’s picked up numerous scholarships, including awards from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Teamwork USA, and the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars. She wrote this personal statement as part of the Johnson Take Stock Program.

I slid down so far that my legs were not even on the chair anymore. My heart pounded wildly. The minute hand moved at the pace of a snail. I was in science class, and I was in shock. I had just failed my assessment. I could barely comprehend the idea of failing because I had always done well in school. Growing up in my Caribbean household, academic success was a necessity so I could go to college, which is something my parents had not been able to do. At first, I felt that failure was a catastrophe that would hurt my parents and meant I was not cut-out for a career as a physician. I was going to throw it all away.

My parents always instilled in me and my siblings that although we did not have a lot, there were always others going through worse than us. Giving back was necessary to balance our blessings. When I was young, my mother took me to volunteer at local food drives. I loved the feeling of helping people and knew I wanted to continue doing it as I grew up. I wanted to go to medical school to be a physician, but this failure started to make me question my capability. My self-confidence plummeted and I began to reassess my career path. I kept thinking that failure was like an eternal red light, but it was actually just a stop sign, a momentary setback that would ultimately push me to try harder and gain confidence in myself.

My drive to be a physician was enough to motivate me to do everything I could to recover my grade in science and find ways to prevent such a failure in the future. Over the next three years, I became a sponge and absorbed as much information during class as I could. Instead of counting the seconds until class would be over, I paid attention, took notes, and stayed engaged. I began to see my work pay off and did dramatically better. I regained my confidence and motivation, and with my renewed drive, started seeking more opportunities: I started volunteering at a local hospital.

On my first day, I delivered a dozen bubblegum pink Minnie Mouse balloons to a little girl in the pediatric ward who was having surgery that afternoon. As I entered the girl’s room, her eyes instantly lit up. She was so excited by the balloons that her surgery felt less significant to her. I imagined how much more rewarding it would be to be her doctor and build a rapport with her while also helping to keep her healthy. During this volunteering experience, I discovered I wanted to specialize in pediatrics and was so grateful I did not give up on my aspiration because of one failure.

Her smile solidified all that I had been working towards after that first failed assessment. It gave me flashbacks to my childhood, giving out food with my mom and the happiness I felt helping others. I realized the failure was just a bump in the road and that I could become a physician if I did not allow failures to discourage me. Without having failed and recovered, I would not have the kind of resilience and self-efficacy I have today, and I would never get to be the great and caring physician I know I will become. My new outlook will give me the confidence to overcome life’s obstacles, so looking back, I am grateful for the experience of having failed.


 

What is Speech-Language Therapy, and Who Can Benefit From It?

This article first appeared on Groves Academy’s website, and is shared with permission. Groves Academy is a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. 

 

“But my child talks just fine…” is often the response I get from parents when I first recommend that they have their student participate in a speech/language assessment. This is such a common misconception, but the truth is, speech is such a small part of what we focus on in speech-language therapy.

At Groves, it’s really the LANGUAGE part of speech-language therapy that our students need. We work with students from Groves Academy and from our community who are diagnosed with specific learning disorders, ADHD/Executive Functioning deficits, or often both. Our goals with students target reading comprehension, vocabulary development, sentence structure/grammar, telling narratives, writing, etc. BUT, before we can target any of those skills, we have to target executive functioning. Executive functioning is, after all, foundational to learning.

In order to learn, students need to be able to attend to the material, organize their ideas, plan ahead, manage their time, be flexible when plans need to change, and be able to reflect on their work to continue to improve. Speech-language therapy at Groves always includes an executive functioning component, as all students, even those without a diagnosed disorder, have difficulty with executive functioning because that part of the brain does not fully develop until adulthood.

Understanding language (both spoken and written) and expressing oneself are also huge keys to success in academic (and really all) environments. Language is involved in every part of a student’s day from following directions during gym class, solving word problems in math, communicating with peers at lunch and recess, writing a paper for social studies or reading the instructions for a project in art class. If a student has a hard time understanding spoken language or expressing themselves effectively, it will affect all parts of their day.

If your student experiences any of the following difficulties, it may be helpful to have them assessed by a speech-language pathologist:

Read more here. 


Meghan Miller is Director of Speech-Language Pathology at Groves Academy

VIA’s Statler Center Trains People for Heroic Work

You never know where you might find a hero – perhaps a person who provides the right help in hard times.

For thousands of people who called for help last year to 211 in Western New York, the heroes on other end of the line were individuals who had trained at the National Statler Center. The National Statler Center is the educational and employment arm of VIA, formerly Olmsted Center for Sight, a Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantee partner.

The stories they heard covered every difficulty imaginable, but amplified by the pandemic – a man needing rent assistance as a landlord threatened eviction, a 22-year-old pregnant woman out of work and out of money, a senior whose water heater quit working, a deaf woman trying to leave an abusive spouse.

211WNY has been a program of VIA for about a decade. About half to three quarters of the information specialists answering the phones are blind or visually impaired. Last year during the pandemic, call volume to 211WNY almost doubled to nearly 82,000, said Renee DiFlavio, Sr. Vice President, Development of VIA. Providing the information that callers need to link them to services is a special skill executed with assistive technology and trained listening skills.

“Certainly if you’re visually impaired, there are many jobs you can do, but call center work is a great job because of the tele-technology,” DiFlavio said. “What’s also interesting is that it might be a model eventually for people to hire people who are blind or visually impaired to work those jobs.”

a woman seated at a computer

Sharell B., a Statler Center graduate, working at the 211WNY Call Center.

Many of the people on the end of the phone lines assisting callers learned their skills at the National Statler Center. The center offers programs for training in several fields, including customer service, hospitality, food prep, software applications, and communications.

“All of the work stations have adaptive technology with a dual-input headset,” said Ray Zylinski, Assistive Technology Instructor at VIA. “You’d hear the caller in one ear, and the computer audio in your other ear. It’s not something everybody can do. You’re essentially absorbing information from two different audio sources at once.”

People who work for 211WNY become adept at entering key words related to a caller’s issue to find human service agencies that could provide the caller with assistance.

More than 100 people have gone through the technology program at VIA’s Statler Center. While some work for 211WNY, others are in jobs with companies throughout the area, the result of the placement specialists at VIA, Zylinski said.

“Statistics show that a very high percent of individuals with low vision who can find employment don’t leave that job, so the attrition rate is significantly low,” Zylinski said. “That hits employers in their wallet, and then they tend to listen.”

That ability to listen is what made heroes of VIA’s assistive technology and referral specialists when so many people were in need of help.


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

A Johnson Scholar Comes Full-Circle

After high school, I felt a true calling to attend a private Christian college. But coming from a single-parent home and living in a trailer, it was a stretch for me to be able to afford a school like Palm Beach Atlantic College. (Side note – Palm Beach Atlantic did not receive university status until after I graduated, so all past references refer to PBA College.) Though my mom worked hard for our family and wanted to see me succeed, like many families, we had limited funds available for college tuition. As I attended community college and worked a full time sales job, the dream of finishing my undergraduate degree at a private Christian school slowly started to slip away.

During the fall of 1996, I researched scholarship opportunities and decided that I was going to take the necessary steps to achieve my goal. Over the course of the following months, I applied to Palm Beach Atlantic College, was accepted for the spring semester and prepared to make the big move. The university provided scholarships and helped me through the financial aid process, making it affordable for me to enroll. The largest gift I received that enabled me to start at PBA was from the Ted/Vivian Johnson Foundation Scholarship. (Side note- I wrote Ted/Vivian Johnson Foundation Scholarship because that’s exactly how it is printed on my student account record that I recently pulled to review.) I continued to receive that same gift for the following few semesters.

At PBA, I met faculty members who cared about me and my future, and I met some of the very best friends I still have today. I also met my future wife, Rachel, at PBA, and we have been married now for almost 20 years. I grew spiritually, too. Through lots of prayer and perseverance, I graduated in 1999 with a clear plan for my future career in banking and non-profit fundraising. Fast forward 20 years, and I am now working for PBA as Director of Alumni Relations.

Students are concerned about the affordability of college tuition and student debt. They want to have clear direction and the ability to get a good job after graduation. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s gifts help students pursue their dreams, and I believe Palm Beach Atlantic University plays a huge role in shaping their futures. PBA and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation certainly did that for me.


Steve Eshelman is Director of Alumni Relations at Palm Beach Atlantic University

Doubting Helen Keller: Where we go from here

The following article first appeared in the Boston Globe, and is shared with permission from Perkins School for the Blind.

What TikTok users who dispute her accomplishments can learn about disability inclusion

After TikTok users spent the past year spreading viral conspiracies labeling Helen Keller as a fraud, the first film to star an actor who is deafblind is up for an Oscar. “Feeling Through,” nominated for Best Live-Action Short, follows the connection that forms between a teenager and a man who is deafblind during a chance meeting late at night in New York City.

The film, as well as the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp,” beautifully refutes ableist misperceptions that undermine the potential of individuals with disabilities. Those discriminatory beliefs emerged on TikTok last year, when scores of the app’s users ignited a trend denying the long list of achievements Helen Keller accumulated throughout her remarkable life. Their flawed logic concluded that Keller could not have authored books, spoken multiple languages, displayed good handwriting, or graduated from college because she did not have sight or hearing.

Such assumptions are dangerous because they perpetuate the false belief that people with disabilities are less capable of success than their peers. Discrediting their accomplishments can insidiously lower others’ expectations for them — or worse, the expectations they have of themselves.

Please read the remainder of the article here.


Dave Power is President and CEO of Perkins School for the Blind

High Need, High Achievement and Core Values are Keys to Developing Change-Makers

The Elevation Scholars program mines Central Florida’s Title I high schools for students exhibiting the non-profit’s core values of kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. It sets them on a course to become change-makers.

When the organization was in its foundational stages of turning concepts into an education-focused program, it couldn’t have found a better model for the kind of student it wanted to help than its first scholar – Revel Lubin.

Elevation Scholars’ founder learned about him from a news story on the Thanksgiving food drive he and other student government leaders had put together for homeless families of students at his school.

The backstory was the attention-grabber, though. Lubin and three of his siblings were being raised by their sister following their mother’s passing from an aneurysm seven years earlier. He had quit sports to get a job to help his sister pay the bills after their electricity had been cut off. He also happened to be student government president.

Kindness. Service. Leadership. Discipline.

“He had everything we were looking for,” said Scott Lee, Elevation Foundation President. “The only question we didn’t know was did he have the academics.”

He had the grades too, but he lacked the test scores and required classes that colleges typically look for.  Helping students develop a “college-going” culture would become a core tenant of Elevation Scholars’ program. The best investment would be money up front – a program that would begin when students are in 9th grade– with high-quality counseling and “intrusive advising and support.”

“We would spend a little money up front, like a down payment, and the colleges would come along and pay them many thousands in scholarships,” Lee says. “If we pick the right kid, this stuff will happen every single time. Those were our early realizations.”

Since its founding in 2013, Elevation Scholars has expanded to working with four Title I high schools where 92 percent of the students are considered low-income. Outreach to students begins with Elevation Club when students are in 9th grade. The monthly club meetings introduce them to everything they’ll need to compete for spots at some of the nation’s most selective universities.  Their goal is not just a college education but an education at one of the nation’s top 100 universities – an arena sorely lacking in college applicants who are the first in their families to attend, so-called first-generation college students.

The Elevation Scholar Award  is given to select students in their junior year – a five-year investment in the students not only to help them get to college but to guide them while they attend.

“The research is pretty clear,” Lee says. “It’s not the academics that cause first-gen kids not to succeed. It’s the idea of imposter syndrome – they feel like they don’t belong, along with limits on family financial support due to the implications of generational poverty. Little problems are impossible to overcome without outside support.”

The Elevation Scholars Award includes some earmarks not typically found in scholarship awards, like winter clothing – for a Florida kid who might get a full ride to Wake Forrest in North Carolina like the program’s second award winner – or professional clothing for joining professional organizations, travel money to ensure they have the ability to get back home for the holidays, and even gear they’ll need for dorm life. In summers, students will participate in paid internships at businesses and organizations in partnership with Elevation Scholars.

Over the next four years, Elevation Scholars, a new grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation, expects to expand into four additional schools and award 92 additional Elevation Scholar Awards by 2025.

Revel Lubin

To win an Elevation Scholar Award, it’s more than a matter of high achieving and high need, Lee says. The students selected also must exhibit Elevation Scholars’ core values – kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. “These kids have a unique set of strengths, and already are demonstrating positive community impact, and that’s really what we’re investing in,” Lee says. “The idea is ultimately to see our investment increase their capacity to impact their community.”

Since the program’s founding, seven cohorts of scholars have attended prestigious universities across the country.  And that first scholar, Revel Lubin, continues the journey he plotted under the guidance of Elevation Scholars. He’s a finalist for Central Floridian of the Year, and he attends Yale Divinity School.

“It’s amazing how many high-achieving leaders there are at our Title I schools,” Lee says.



Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation