Tales from When

Step Up For Students

Faith Manuel’s children were struggling at their school in Daytona Beach, Florida. Like so many others growing up in low-income neighborhoods, the school they were zoned for had its fair share of problems. “There was lots of violence, gang violence, sexual issues with students,” Ms. Manuel explains. “I just didn’t want [them] in that environment.” Her son, Davion, never as studious as his sister and facing social challenges, struggled academically, while her daughter, also named Faith, had some emotional difficulties adjusting to middle school. Fed up and concerned about their future, Ms. Manuel resolved to find a way to alter her children’s trajectory.

Kenia Palacios and Victor Tobar’s kids, Mario and Gabby, faced similar issues at their Winter Garden, Florida schools. In high school, Mario had fallen in with a bad crowd, culminating in his so-called “friends” actually breaking into the family’s house and robbing them. Gabby, still in middle school, had to transfer from an A-rated to an F-rated school after they moved. Ms. Palacios and Mr. Tobar realized that they, too, had to do something to ensure that their children would get the education they deserved. “The only way you’ll succeed in life is when you get an education,” says Ms. Palacios. “Trust me, I learned that 20 years later.”

Fortunately for both families, there is an organization that could help. Step Up For Students provides tax credit scholarships to students in grades K through 12 who are in need of financial assistance. This allows children to attend private or public schools outside of their home district that may offer a better education than the schools they are zoned for – something families living near or below the poverty level are often unable to do on their own. As the organization’s mission statement explains, Step Up For Students “provides legislatively authorized K-12 scholarships and related support to give economically disadvantaged families the freedom to choose the best learning options for their children.”

With the help of Step Up For Students, both of Ms. Manuel’s children ended up transferring to Calvary Christian Academy. These days, things are looking much brighter for the whole family. “It was a lifesaver for [Davion],” says Ms. Manuel, noting some of the profound changes that took place in his life. His new school bestowed a powerful newfound sense of purpose and responsibility upon him, and he became a role model for his younger brother and sister. Ms. Manuel also credits the Academy, as well as the Step Up For Students program, with opening the door for Davion to pursue higher education. He is currently a student at Florida State College of Jacksonville and has plans to transfer to University of North Florida. “I learned the hard way that public schools are preparing the kids for high school graduation, that’s it,” she says. “Here they are preparing them for college.” Davion plans to become a math teacher, something he seems to be well suited for having recently won an award for “math tutor of the year.”

Ms. Palacios and Mr. Tobar’s children also received scholarships through Step Up For Students. Their son, Mario, now attends Bishop Moore Catholic School, and their daughter goes to Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic School. For Mario, the transition from public school to his new school wasn’t easy, but he has finally adjusted. Academics, discipline, responsibilities, and football… there were so many expectations for him in this new environment. “At Bishop Moore, it is a lot harder than at regular public school,” says Mario. “I found that out really quick.” He struggled with the challenging classwork, but soon improved his 2.0 GPA to a 4.0. “The guidance counselor told me that was the biggest jump they had ever seen,” he says proudly.

For Ms. Manuel’s daughter, Faith, the benefits are just as tangible. She was always a good student, but she now has the ability to truly concentrate on her classwork. “In my other school,” she says, “it wasn’t like, ‘Focus and pay attention.’ It was more like, ‘Let’s all be rowdy.’ [The Academy] is more steady and more focused, and I can pay attention.” There are a wide variety of after school activities to choose from, including basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, and cheerleading. Faith’s days in school are now well-rounded and fulfilling, allowing her to fully immerse herself in her studies with less distraction.

Having the chance to take control of her children’s educational path has profoundly affected the entire family, and Ms. Manuel sees a direct correlation to the motivated, optimistic attitude that her kids now possess. “Having the opportunity to put them in an environment that supported our core values,” she says, “was really beautiful and solidified who they are as people.” Faith now envisions a future for herself in which she can pay forward the help she received on a global scale. “I want to be something big,” she says. “I don’t want to be someone who does something big for their little community. I want to be someone who does something for everyone.”

“If it weren’t for the program, who knows where my son would be today?” says Ms. Palacios. “I knew that I had to do something to change Mario’s life.” At her children’s new schools, she and Mr. Tobar have the opportunity to be much more involved with their kids’ academics and lives in general. Now, instead of getting into trouble with his friends, Mario is deciding where he wants to go to college – a decision he made on his own. “If I hadn’t received the scholarship… I’d probably be somewhere no kid ever wants to be,” he says. “After everything we have been through the only thing you can do is think positive.”

Frontline Insurance is proud to have committed $760,000 to Step Up For Students for the 2014-2015 year. This will fund 140 scholarships for Florida children, giving them a chance to succeed that they might not have had otherwise. “Investing in our community through the education of our youth is something that Frontline is proud to do,” says company president Leman Porter, “and we know there can be no better return on that investment than thriving students.”

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