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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.

6 Questions All Transfer Students Should Ask

Read more at SUNY Ulster’s blog at blog.sunyulster.edu

As college students pursuing forms of higher education, question-asking really becomes a learned art. After all, in order to make informed decisions regarding our future as academics, we need to understand the options available to us. So, here are six questions all students looking for their dream transfer school should ask:

What credits will transfer?

This is SO important. Every college is different, as are their requirements for degree completion. This means that while most or all of your courses may transfer at one institution, you might have a lot of catching up to do at another. Make sure you know just how many credits will transfer before you make a final decision.

Is there a different application period?

It can be confusing navigating other college websites, but many dedicate an entire section to transfer students. If they do, this section is where you should find all of the information you’ll need in regards to applying. Since the application process can be different for transfer students as opposed to first-year applicants, you will want to make sure you are applying by the correct deadline.

What opportunities are there for me to get involved?

As mentioned in a previous blog post, campus involvement is such an important part of making the most of your college experience. One of the best things you can do when seeking to transfer is to ask what opportunities for involvement are available to you — especially in your specific field of study! Ask about clubs, internships and other programs the college might offer and take advantage of the results.

What about specific scholarships?

Nobody wants to graduate with a mess of student loans to take care of, but since the average transfer school is more expensive than community college, student loans are a very real possibility. Scholarships are a great way to help eliminate that debt. And oftentimes, institutions offer specific scholarships for their transfer students. These are definitely worth looking into!

What is the rate of student success?

Some schools have a better success rate for transfer students than others. This has to do with the programs they offer, as well as how easy it is for transfer students to acclimate in their new environment. Some colleges focus a lot of time, attention and energy towards their transfers. Others leave their transfer students to wade through the muddle of information all by themselves. Finding a school where you will be valued will greatly improve your personal chance at success.

Can I talk to your students?

Though the previous five questions are mainly designed to be asked of admissions counselors, never forget the students! They are your gateway to developing a thorough and precise list of the pros and cons of your dream transfer school. Students are never shy to give you their honest opinion about classes, professors, activities, inclusion — even the affordability of cafeteria prices. Definitely take advantage of this insider-look!

Ariana Stadtlander is an alumna of SUNY Ulster now pursuing a career as a freelance writer, editor and blogger.

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.

Taking the Long View

Eight years ago a young man named Miguel was in his last year of Philadelphia’s Northeast High School when his teacher referred him to the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program. Like thousands of public school seniors across the country receiving special education services, Miguel’s postsecondary options seemed both daunting and uncertain. He needed the targeted interventions that a program like Bridges has mastered over nearly three decades of serving more than 22,000 youth. He needed an adult mentor who would steer him through the complex process of school-to-work transition. He needed help bridging the gap between high school and the world of work.

Bridges logoAs with all Bridges participants, Miguel availed himself of job readiness and employability skills instruction aimed at preparing him for what to expect in the competitive workforce, a milieu that sometimes tolerates fewer mistakes and grants fewer second chances. But Miguel was committed and earnest in his pursuit of employment, so with the assistance and encouragement from Bridges, he was successful in landing his first job with a Walgreens as a customer service associate. Miguel’s punctuality and dependability at Walgreens demonstrated his potential for the demands of fast-paced production environment with Philadelphia’s Union Packaging, a company that manufactures containers for fast food and casual dining restaurants.

At Union Packaging Miguel proved himself able in keeping pace with complex machinery as it churned out food containers to be packaged and shipped to restaurants across the country. He received both pay increases and increases in responsibility. But Miguel’s story doesn’t end there. Not only did he keep in touch with Bridges over the years by sharing his job and career updates he continued to press ahead with efforts to grow and better himself. Miguel recently completed training qualifying him to join Philadelphia’s SEPTA’s Police Department. Now 26, he’s pictured here…..

Miguel Cuevas Police Academy graduationA story like Miguel’s is timely. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) when programs like Bridges shine a light on the great work of many in business, philanthropy, and government alike in efforts to break down barriers for persons with disabilities to achieve their employment and career aspirations.

It’s the stories of young men and women like Miguel that help the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges program earn a reputation for practicing evidence-based strategies that lead to jobs that build self-esteem, maturity, and independence. Stories like Miguel’s — and there are thousands of them — demonstrate to stakeholders and funders the value of our work. Stories like these attest to the return on investment for grantors who want to see quantifiable and tangible results.

Inclusion drives innovation poster

Taking the long view, showing commitment and building trust — these are key characteristics essential for young workers to learn in the world of competitive work. They are equally essential to building successful partnerships with program supporters in the competitive world of grant-making and grant-seeking.  Similar to our work with youth, the funding and support partnerships begin with assessment and the readiness of parties to enter into a partnership. And these stage-setting steps cannot be shortchanged. Openness on timing, deepening knowledge through site visits, collaboratively scoping plans, to the benefit of all, are essential to the long-term success of the partnership. And taking the employment analogy one step further, the genuine commitment to long-term partnership allows both grantee and the funder to look at the partnership as an investment with an expected return.

In real terms, the long-term matching grant from Johnson Scholarship Foundation to Marriott Foundation Bridges allows the organization to position our school-to-work services as social impact seeking added capital to grow, expand and deliver a return for investors and clients alike. This approach is leading to the expansion of Bridges services in Ft. Worth, Boston, and New York City in addition to the nine other cities already serves.

NDEAM celebrates ability and value people with disabilities bring to the workforce, and let us further acknowledge that the lessons learned from successful employment experiences parallel the relationships and partnership we build together.