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The First Steps to Success – Commitment

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. He shares his thoughts of commitment to college.

College ‒ a goal my family had set for me long before I knew how to read. College used to be something I never thought I’d reach. As a child I never thought I would be stepping out into the world without my parents’ complete guidance and assistance. Frankly the thought of transitioning into adulthood is still frightening. My name is Steven Portillo, and this is the story of my life, my aspirations, and a declaration of my future success.

College means the world to me, now more than ever. My goal since I was young was to eventually start a family, to be able to provide for my family, and to be able to put a smile on as many faces as possible. As a young boy this dream seemed nearly impossible, but yet, so many people have managed to put themselves in the position I dreamed of. How? At a young age I started listening to motivational speeches and reading novels on financial success. If I am to become those who I idolize, I must first understand what they did, and follow in their footsteps. Mankind has never achieved anything great without the information and assistance of others. Knowledge was meant to be shared for the prosperity of all. This leads to a fundamental part to my future success, and that’s the support systems I’ve been blessed with.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a JTSP scholar. Without these amazing people, I would have struggled much more with constructing a plan to go to college and to further myself in life. Support from my family, friends, and even strangers has allowed me to conquer obstacles I never believed existed. I believe it is my duty to share my support and knowledge with others. Prosperity should be something that everyone can obtain. I believe in the “Pursuit of happiness.” Success to me is so much more than money. Success is to be able to not only provide for yourself but to be able to support others through their struggles.

I am declaring now, I WILL be successful. I will work my hardest, even when others say it’s foolish.  I am determined to become my best self, and in the future I will continue to make goals, because I never want to stop growing. Motivation always starts with yourself. I remember the first time I attempted to work out. Oh my, what an experience! This was an attempt at a long term goal that required dedication and determination. I will never forget the first time I was able to lift 200 lbs. When I first started I could only lift 100. This was when I knew that these types of results could be applied to other parts of my life. Work while others are resting. Work now so that later you can enjoy the spoils of life. Your future is what you make of it. If you’re determined to make it to your destination, you’ll get there. You just have to believe in the process.

I am Steven Portillo, and this is the story of who I am, who I want to be, and the success I am sure to obtain in my future.


Steven Portillo is a senior at William T. Dwyer High School and a Johnson Take Stock Scholar.

 

Forever Grateful for My Support System – Family, Friends, and Johnson Take Stock

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. She shares her story and path to college as 2020 comes to a close.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Shelly, and I will hopefully be the first to go to college in the United States in my family because they did their education in Cuba. I came when I was 7 years old, and at that time I was in second grade. Then I went to middle school and now I am a junior at Forest Hill High School. I have many colleges that I would love to go to, such as UM, UCF, FIU, and many more. I would love to go to a college near home so I could see my grandparents as much as possible. My goal is to make myself and them proud of everything I hope to achieve.

Additionally, going to college would mean so much to me and my family. I have always worked hard and tried my best in school by always doing well in my classes and being involved in school activities. Getting a good education is the best opportunity ever given to me. I can use this to have a good career that I enjoy and that will never make me stress about not having enough money to pay the bills. Growing up in a not the wealthiest family brings many life lessons that open your eyes and encourage you to take your education seriously so that you don’t have to go through the same thing your family did since you were given a better chance. This is why going to college would mean so much to me. I will have a stable future that I hope will allow me to give back to those who gave to me. These life challenges and many others help me shape my values and open my eyes to appreciate everything I have around me because not everyone has the same opportunity or conditions.

Furthermore, my goal is to find as much financial help to pay for college, so that neither my family nor I will need to stress about paying for my education, and that’s why I am so grateful to be part of the Johnson Take Stock family. They have supported me in many ways. I am grateful for all the activities, workshops, community service opportunities, events, etc. that Johnson Take Stock lets me be a part of. They always teach me something new, and I enjoy going to them since I have a fun time. I joined Johnson Take Stock back in my freshman year, and I have met so many kind people who just want to genuinely help you. Thanks to Johnson Take Stock, I know that if I keep following my side of the contract they will help me pay for my first years of college, and this is the biggest support I could ever receive from them. My other support systems are my family and friends. They help me make decisions, and this is a big help because I am so indecisive. They motivate me to keep working hard because it is all worth it at the end of the day. They also support me by congratulating my achievements which makes me feel good. Another support system I have are my teachers and guidance counselors because I know they are there for me if I ever need to talk to someone, and they just want the best for their students.

In conclusion, going to college would mean a lot to me and my family, and that is why I will always keep working hard to reach my goals. I am forever grateful for my support systems which are my family, friends, Johnson Take Stock family, and the staff at my school. All of the challenges I face will always just make me stronger so I am grateful for those, as well.


Shelly Cruz is a junior at Forest Hill High School. She has been a participant in the Johnson Take Stock  Program since her freshman year in high school.

 

 

Palm Beach Atlantic Journalism Student Interns at South Florida’s NPR Station

Amber Amortegui is a Johnson Scholar attending Palm Beach Atlantic University, a core grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. This article is shared with permission.

Amber Amortegui

As an intern for WLRN, Amber Amortegui regularly reports for the top-ranked public ration station in the state.

The senior journalism major and incoming editor-in-chief of The Beacon Today persistently pursued the internship for more than a year by building up her resume and connecting with the station’s news staff. Amortegui, of Davie, Florida, landed one of two paid internships at the station in a highly-competitive environment.

She has covered a protest in Fort Lauderdale, the reopening of a local bowling alley following the COVID-19 shutdown and a virtual meeting of the Florida Board of Governors, which governs the state’s 12 public universities.

Amortegui impressed WLRN Editorial Director Alicia Zuckerman with her willingness to jump in. She is not shy about pitching ideas during daily news meetings, Zuckerman said, and she quickly forged a working relationship with her fellow intern. The two are collaborating on an upcoming piece about how Gen Z uses social media for activism.

“She had a lot of ideas of her own. She asked a lot of good questions,” Zuckerman said of Amortegui. “I’ve been really impressed with how proactive she’s been. She’s also been really open to learning in the process.”

Before starting the internship, Amortegui possessed digital editing skills from the podcast she records and produces for The Beacon Today, Zuckerman said. In the social media piece, for example, she incorporated the sounds of various social media alerts.

Amortegui credits PBA journalism professors Israel Balderas and Danilda Martinez for preparing students to create print, audio and video packages. She was familiar with some of WLRN’s audio recorders because PBA owns the same equipment.

At the same time, the internship has given her opportunities to work through challenges that she hasn’t faced in the classroom. At the bowling alley, for example, music blared overhead as she interviewed a couple playing in a senior league. At the protest, someone dribbled a basketball nearby as she recorded one of the chants.

“I’m really glad I was able to get this type of internship, because it is what I want to do,” said Amortegui, whose end goal is to work for a National Public Radio station or a syndicated podcast.

Amortegui has helped WLRN reach a broader audience by paying close attention to how her peers get their news – which is typically not through national media – and relaying what she learns to editors and reporters, Zuckerman said.

Amortegui said she’s learned both journalism and leadership skills from observing the team at WLRN, specifically Zuckerman and News Director Terence Shepherd.

“It’s a lot of teamwork. They don’t act like there’s a hierarchy,” Amortegui said. “They’re always open to hearing reporters’ ideas. They encourage us to take risks in our storytelling.”

She said she enjoys providing a valuable public service – helping listeners make sense of the news in a time of chaos and confusion.

“We’re called to do our job, inform the public and state facts accurately,” Amortegui said.

Sarah Peters serves as Multimedia Writer/Editor for University Relations and Marketing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. PBA is a core grantee partner of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Sweat Equity, Delayed Gratification, and One Senior’s Story of a Big Payoff

Meet Evan Cabrera, a member of the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program and recent graduate of Lake Worth High School. Cabrera will be heading to Florida Atlantic University in the fall on a full ride scholarship as a participant in the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. He is one of four students in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program to receive the honor for academically talented, first-generation students. They are among 15 high school seniors in Florida to receive the scholarships.

In a recent conversation with us, Cabrera shared his thoughts about his success, some private struggles, and his advice for other students.

JSF: Evan, tell us a little about what it took to receive not one but two full scholarships.

EC: In my junior year I was asked to apply for the Leaders for Life scholarship. (The Leaders for Life full scholarship is awarded to six Take Stock in Children scholars from across the state.) At that point, that was the first scholarship I was applying for. It was a pretty big packet. (Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Executive Director ) Nancy Stellway really helped me a lot. I turned out to be a semi-finalist. It put me down a little bit. But she said my application was really good, and told me I could apply for this other scholarship. I thought of it as a little failure that I had. But I realized a lot of people who might have edged me out didn’t even apply. And I realized it’s just some more minutes to put into it.

Evan Cabrera in Graduation Gown

I remember hearing the term “sweat equity.” I thought about that a lot. I have to put in the work now. I applied for the Kelly/Strul and another from the Scholastic Achievement Foundation. I remember thinking ‘I’m applying for two separate four-year scholarships to the same school. How crazy if I got them both.’ And I did! I know I’m really grateful just being in this position.

JSF: In your essays, you talk about some difficulties in your family during high school. How did that affect you?

EC: In my sophomore year, my brother was arrested at our house. When the police came to our house, I was the first one handcuffed, interrogated. It was traumatic. It’s still traumatic to think about sometimes, even though I know the police are not going after me. I didn’t share it with many people. It gave me insight into what I was doing in my life. (At Johnson Scholars-Take Stock,) only a few people knew. My mentor knew. Anytime I was in that environment it was always happiness. I liked the meetings we had. It helped me a lot without them really knowing.

Evan Cabrera in mangroves with trash bag

I never questioned if my school or other potential outlets were worthwhile. I cannot set my expectations too high. My goal was not to get straight A’s. I just thought, ‘let me do good and care,’ and I got straight A’s. I started my own club outside of school. That’s where I devoted a lot of, let’s say, my bottled emotions. It’s called PB4Planet. I found out there was a climate strike in West Palm Beach. I contacted the organizer and said I wanted to be involved. I’ve always been interested in renewable resources and renewable energy. I was always into science. I wanted to make some difference. I knew political change is very difficult. I started that club with high school kids to make inspirational change. We’ve done beach cleanups, we did a mangrove cleanup in Boynton Beach. It’s something I’m going to continue while in university. Since I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, I hope to become a civil engineer and focus on building homes to a more eco-friendly standard.

JSF: What advice do you have for other young people contemplating their future?

EC: It’s extremely hard for someone, especially in my generation, to see the long-term goal. So it’s hard to put in the effort initially. I think that’s the perspective of why so many people are complaining about us. For me, just putting in that sweat equity without even knowing what that end goal would be, it fulfilled me. When I started doing well in school, I had some guys say, ‘oh, he’s probably a nerd.’ If you know you have potential within yourself, don’t go for the mainstream mentality of immediate rewards. Too many guys think, ‘I have to do certain things to fit in.’ Well, sometimes you don’t need to fit in. After I started getting all this positive attention for the things I was doing everybody just started respecting me. It’s all worth it. I only realize these things because I’ve had an open mind to learn from mistakes.

Evan Cabrera is a recent Lake Worth High School graduate and recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Florida Atlantic University through the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program.

A Desire to Heal Unseen Pain Drives Senior’s Calling

The following is an excerpt from an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

In modern-day society, I‘m categorized as an African American woman. But my Haitian culture runs deeper than the outward appearance of my skin. Where I’m from, our struggles are both mental and physical. According to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization combating poverty in Haiti, “59 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.” Knowing that my culture is a place that is constantly fighting depression inspired me to become a successful psychologist in the future. In this role, I would like to appeal to the biased and skeptical individuals that would see therapy as a weakness.

While accomplishing the process of getting my psychology degree, I’ll have the ability to help people understand and manage their problems by identifying their strengths and available resources. No one is perfect, so it’s important to have those people who can evaluate an individual holistically and view the scope of their problems. I hope to expand my career into social work. I would like to help children that are in danger mentally, physically, and sexually. Once I receive the degree I’m going to help people overcome all the issues they are facing. Lastly, I will have an ongoing business for low-income families that need help but can’t afford it. With the knowledge I gain, I’ll take it back to my culture and help them relieve some of their stress.

Ednisha Vertus standing in front of school building.

Leadership, public speaking and service work are roles that I play in my everyday life. I wouldn’t describe my capabilities as skills because skills are things that are learned and taught, while capabilities originate from within. I will lead my future clients towards the right path to overcome obstacles that are blocking their success. I shall inspire them to be a better version of themselves, and not let anyone categorize them. There is a solution to everything; you just have to be willing to find it and work for it. When I do become a psychologist, I would like to lower the suicidal death rate by encouraging people to form a plan to solve their problems.

There are many things that I am grateful for but most importantly is my eyesight. A tragic accident when I was 6 resulted in me being stabbed in my eye. This incident caused me to realize that there are many different types of hidden pain a person can feel. It allowed me to view world issues from a different perspective. As I was teased about the Band-Aid on my eyelid, no one knew how I felt inside. They saw the outcome of my accident and assumed to know my feelings. With all the pain I’ve experienced mentally and physically I want everyone to know that me becoming a psychologist is not something I decided for myself, but what I truly believe is my calling on this earth.

Ednisha Vertus is a senior at Lake Worth High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

Valedictorian: How Perseverance and Mentoring Have Guided Me

The following are excerpts from essays written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

My family has a history of overcoming struggles. My grandfather began working in the fields at the tender age of four. My father started working at the age of six. My mother never completed any education beyond 6th grade due to the family’s financial difficulties.

I have had to overcome difficulties since the day I was born. Surrounded by sugarcane and wild rabbits that run the fields in the small rural town of Belle Glade, I was a premature baby, with unhealthy weight and lack of interest in eating. Although my mother tried her best to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy, due to extreme financial distress, she often went without nutritious food.

Gema Cervantes holding laptop and flowers

When I was two months old, I contracted viral meningitis due to weak health and poor environmental surroundings. When I was two years of age, once again, I was rushed to the hospital for surgery from an appendicitis. I later suffered from dehydration right after the surgery. I had extended hospital stays since birth throughout my childhood. The medical bills would often begin to accumulate one after another, and my parents often had difficulty keeping up with them. At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with ADHD and Myopia after years of struggling to do well in school and being inflicted with chronic headaches. I had to be placed in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program for the rest of my elementary years because the effect of meningitis in my brain had caused me to have a learning disability.

The lack of financial stability in my family is directly linked to my family members being unable to attain an education beyond the 6th grade. This fact, in turn, has created a generational chain of inability to achieve an education and consequently, poor health.

One of the differences that has turned me into a strong leader is the strong parents that I have. Both wanted me to have a better chance in life and crossed to a foreign nation in the pursuit of that better life. They wanted me to have what they did not have. They continually remind me never to let my opportunities to learn go to waste. Unlike my parents, I can attend high school and finish college thanks to Take Stock in Children. They have talked to me throughout my high school life to work hard in school so that I don’t have to go through what my parents went through.

During high school, I have participated in over ten extracurricular activities and have strived for excellence in academics. I am President of the Pros and Consequences of Life Club which serves to promote awareness of HIV, STDs and academic focus. I am also President of the Spanish Book Club which drives students to success in their foreign language courses and fundraisers to provide the homeless with dental supplies. I am a mentor with the ESOL Mentoring program in which students are pushed to overcome the stresses and anxieties of learning a foreign language, which I have experienced myself.

My goal in five years is to practice primary family medicine in rural areas in Palm Beach County like Belle Glade. My first step is by finishing my undergraduate degree at Florida State University.

I would like to return twice a month to Glades Central High School to support organizations such as the ESOL Mentoring Program and the Women of Tomorrow to continue empowering women. It would also be my greatest desire to help students with whom I share the struggle and anxiety of learning a second language. I would continue to mentor students from the ESOL mentoring program and to establish an organization that mentors students with the lowest grades at Glades Central High School and with learning disabilities. Being able to help establish this organization would be meaningful to me because I have a learning disability and understand the discipline it takes to control such a disability. My third goal would be to support Take Stock in Children as a volunteer throughout my three years of medical school.

Gema Cervantes wearing graduation cap and gown

Through the growth I have gained from hardships I have encountered and the mentoring support received from TSIC, I will graduate with my AA degree from Palm Beach State College by high school graduation. I will be graduating high school as valedictorian.

My parents may not have received education more than the 6th grade, but they taught me to live with integrity and honesty. My goal is to continue to serve my community, to become the best person I can be, determined to meet my goals and to serve.

Gema Cervantes is a senior at Glades Central High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

In School and in Life, Graduating Senior Demonstrates Leadership

This post originally appeared in the Lake Worth High School Alumni Foundation newsletter.

It’s tough enough to excel academically in high school, and even tougher when you’re also a veteran on the football team. But tough situations don’t intimidate recent Lake Worth Community High School graduate Matthew Narcisse.

Narcisse earned a 4.18 HPA while playing on the Trojans football team all four years. He’s also been involved with the wrestling and weightlifting teams, Air Force JROTC, the Drafting and Design Academy and the Interact Club, among other activities. During a recent summer, he was chosen to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Camp.

Unlike many of his classmates, however, he has responsibilities that continue beyond the school day. He is a caregiver for his mother, who survived a debilitating stroke in 2012.

“One thing I’ve learned is how to sacrifice and how to manage my time,” said Narcisse, who has four brothers and two sisters, plus an extended family in Haiti.

He also has endured his own health challenges. As a child, he suffered a broken femur in a car accident. The injury affects his running ability even today. As an athlete, “I always push myself,” he said.

Off the playing field, Narcisse aspires to be a civil engineer.  “What civil engineers do is they help build communities,” he said.

To achieve his goal, he’s spent the past four years in the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County program. This college readiness program, which includes the opportunity to meet regularly with a mentor, offers participants a chance to graduate with a two-year college scholarship. The program is a collaboration between the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Take Stock in Children and the School District of Palm Beach County.

His hard work and diligence have not gone unnoticed. Narcisse was his school’s nominee for Take Stock in Children’s 2019 Leaders for Life Fellowship, an honor awarded to only a handful of students in Florida (this year Glades Central Community High School graduate Marie Sintulaire was named a Leaders for Life Fellow). One of his teachers wrote a letter on his behalf that reads, in part, “It is rare that I meet a student with the drive, resiliency and verbal abilities to self-advocate as Matthew Narcisse.”

Matthew Narcisse on stage with a medal

He also was chosen to speak to his fellow graduates at the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock graduation event in May. In attendance for the event was Narcisse’s mentor, Pat Growney.

This fall, Narcisse will study civil engineering at the University of Florida. He has been chosen for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars, a nationally recognized program for first-generation college students.

“My life situations have empowered me,” he said. “When I face adversity in the future, I will just persevere and stay faithful.”

Service-Oriented Glades Student Named Leaders for Life Fellow

Long and very busy days are typical for high school senior Marie Sintulaire.

Besides excelling in her high school classes, she also participates in her school’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children college readiness program and takes college classes in the evening through dual enrollment. She has done all of this while completing more than 1,200 hours of community service.

Marie’s academic achievements and perseverance have earned her a special honor. She is one of only seven highly motivated students in the state of Florida to be named a recipient of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders for Life Fellowship, an award that comes with $40,000 in college scholarships plus internship opportunities and leadership training.

She learned of the news in January during at a surprise announcement at her school, Glades Central Community High School in Belle Glade, Florida. On hand for the presentation were her mother and the pastor of her church where she serves as a pianist.

“I knew the competition would be fierce, but I had no idea I could be a Leaders for Life Fellow,” said Marie, who plans to use her scholarship to study finance at Florida State University.

She recently traveled to Tallahassee for a Leaders for Life event, during which she and the other fellows met the governor and toured the state Capitol.

Marie is the youngest of five children. She will be a first-generation college student along with her older sister, who currently attends the University of Florida.

Marie said she first learned about the Leaders for Life Fellowship from Esther Benette, a graduate of the fellowship who is also from Palm Beach County. Esther, who received the fellowship in 2013, was a guest speaker at a Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children club meeting at Marie’s school.

Including Marie and Esther, four Palm Beach County students have been named Leaders for Life Fellows in the past eight years. The others are Victoria Estevez (2018) and Karla Menchu-Saban (2017).

Glades Central is one of 10 high schools in the School District of Palm Beach County to offer the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock program, which is supported by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Marie said she enjoyed going on college tours through the program, as well as participating in the workshops and club meetings.

“We talked about different skills and abilities that you need that you don’t normally discuss in class,” such as résumé writing and business etiquette, she said.

Throughout her time in the program, Marie also has received advice and encouragement during her weekly meetings with her mentor, Glades Central mathematics educator Dr. Cecelia Harriott. Marie said she appreciated having Dr. Harriott give her advice about school and life in general. She hopes other adults will want to help students through mentorship.

“I believe it’s an excellent part of the program,” she said. “You never know what piece of advice you give that plays an influential role in the life of your mentee.”

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at www.jsf.bz.

King’s Legacy in Action

When most Americans think of the accomplishments of Black Americans in the United States, one individual instinctively comes to mind – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  You won’t find a corner of the United States that doesn’t recognize just how impactful Dr. King’s work was, and still is, to life in America.  

His legacy as a fighter for equality and a bridge builder is honored all over the world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. truly believed in empowering people, bridging barriers, and creating solutions to social problems with hopes of moving society closer to his vision of all people having equality and access to opportunity.

The Johnson Scholars Program of the School District of Palm Beach County, in collaboration with Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County (JTSP), prides itself on empowering individuals, removing barriers and creating solutions to a very serious social problem – getting our first-generation and low-income students into and successfully finishing a post-secondary institution.  

Johnson Scholars/Take Stock students explore campus life at Valencia College
Johnson Scholars/Take Stock students explore campus life at Valencia College.

JTSP aims to make students college-ready by equipping them with life skills, by providing health and wellness awareness, and by guiding them through the entire process of getting accepted into a post-secondary institution. JTSP students usually have their first contact with the college experience by going on one of our organized college tours. “[Helping first generation, low income students] is important to me, because as a first generation student myself, I want to give the same confidence and resources to our students that someone gave to me. I still remember the first time I went on a college tour to Florida A&M University; from that moment on I knew I was going to college,” says Wanda Thomas, guidance counselor and JSTP coordinator at Palm Beach Lakes High School.

Being a first-generation and low-income student comes with its share of obstacles – not just the obvious financial need, but also the lack of understanding about where to start and what to do to get to college. The JTSP staff, mentors, and coaches support students through this process. “Knowing how difficult it is for first generation students to go to college, mainly due to lack of support, inspires me to be that person who helps bridge that gap,” says Johnson Scholars AmeriCorps College Coach
Hannah Cheeks.

JTSP helps actualize the dream of college to a very diverse group of students. Of the 451 students presently served by this collaboration of Johnson Scholars and Take Stock in Children, 48 percent identify as Non-Hispanic/Black/African American and 37 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. It is immensely rewarding to see the joy of each student as they share with pride which college or university they’ve been accepted to.

JTSP students  on one of the program's organized college tours
JTSP students usually have their first contact with the college experience by going on one of the program’s organized college tours.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will always be relevant, in that his drive to uplift American society lives on through millions of Americans each day. By creating educational opportunities for low-income and first-generation students, JSTP will continue striving to remove barriers and empower students as they achieve their post-secondary goals. “Our kids are resilient, smart and amazing,” says Sharmagne Solis, JSTP coordinator at Village Academy. “They simply need someone to invest in them and guide them, and they can truly meet their highest potential.”

Gbolade George was educated in the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, and he has worked in the district for 21 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral disorders in education from the University of South Florida. He is in his third year as resource teacher and mentor facilitator for the Johnson Scholars Program.

Five College Success Takeaways from the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock Senior Summit

On a recent Thursday morning, more than 100 recent high school graduates sacrificed a morning of their hard-earned summer vacation to equip themselves for the next step — college.

JS-TSIC Senior Summit 2018

Held on the campus of Palm Beach State College, this year’s Senior Summit — a half-day boot camp of sorts — was nothing new for these students. All of them had spent the past four years in a college readiness program supported by the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. All have been accepted to a college or university. A few of them already have college credits or even associate’s degrees they earned through dual enrollment while still in high school.

But even though these students will continue to receive support services from the program while they are at college, they soon learned there are several steps they need to take on their own to be successful.  Here are five of our favorites.

Students in a group exercise

Get involved. During an icebreaker exercise, the students were challenged to get out of their comfort zone and meet people by trying out elaborate (and frequently silly) handshake techniques. The point? The best way to make the most of your college experience is to study hard but also make an effort to reach out to other students. As Resource Teacher Gbolade George put it, “you won’t meet new friends sitting in your dorm room.”

Success is no secret. The primary non-secret that Mr. George addressed was that students need to have a vision. “If you don’t know where you are going, you’re never going to get there.” Students were encouraged to dream big, set goals and then take action. The second non-secret is that success takes hard work and students have the choice of working at their education or not. Mr. George stressed the need for work by noting that “if you don’t pay the price for success [work], you will pay the price for failure.” He encouraged the students to value their time and use it wisely.

Take Stock college success guide logo

Money management is important. The day’s activities included a crash course in budgeting and the different types of financial aid. Take Stock in Children Director of Program Services Marilyn Schiavo encouraged students to look for grants instead of loans, and to be aware that many types of aid require them to keep their grades above a C average. They also received a budget template as part of their College Success Guide to help them keep track of expenses.

Take care of your mental health. In a session titled “Get Your Mind Right,” Jeannie Hoban, a Palm Beach State College counselor and faculty member, talked about why mental health is important and why it matters in college. She encouraged students to find out what resources are available on their campus and to take advantage of them. The most common types of mental illness are anxiety and depression, and people often have co-occurring illnesses, she said. For students who suffer from test anxiety, she said deep breaths are the quickest way students can calm themselves down.

Two students in a group exercise

Know what to expect. Take Stock College Retention Specialists Irijah Kanoyton and Ruth Ann Dean introduced the students to the Kuder Career Interests Assessment program. Using individual computers, every student was able to complete a survey that produced not only what career areas are of most interest to each student, but what actual jobs there are in those areas, what those jobs are currently paying, and what college courses need to be taken to prepare for those jobs. They stressed the value of knowing what you want and planning appropriately, as well as the value of really working with guidance counselors and advisors to get on track and stay on track.

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at www.jsf.bz.