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OMYF Community Spotlight: Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools

By John Denton
July 30, 2011

ORLANDO -- here was an instance when one of the students in Seminole County’s ``Take Stock in Children’’ program encountered some bad influences, started skipping school and even went as far as once running away from home. But after counseling was arranged by the program, that student ultimately achieved a 4.0-grade-point average and is enrolled now in college.

For another of the ``Take Stock in Children’’ students it hardly mattered that he was a star football player and offered 27 college scholarships because he was dealing with real-life issues that threatened to derail him in school. The athlete’s family lost their home during tough times and he became homeless and forced to live with friends. But through help provided by Seminole County and other aid from the ``Take Stock in Children’’ program, the family was able to get back in a home and the former star athlete is now in college … on an academic scholarship.

``Had the program not been there (they) probably would have been another of the dropout statistics that are out there right now and we feel really good about how we were able to help,’’ said Marlene Mraz, the director of the ``Take Stock in Children’’ program for the Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools.

The ``Take Stock in Children’’ program was greatly aided last year by a $20,000 grant from the Orlando Magic Youth Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund (OMYF-MFF). It was one of 19 Central Florida organizations presented grants by the OMYF-MFF as a part of the Magic’s community outreach initiative. Over the last 21 years, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation has distributed more than $16 million to local non-profit community organizations. The OMYF raises community dollars annually through donations, auctions and events such as the Black Tie and Tennies Gala and the OMYF Golf Tournament with matching funds at $0.50 on the dollar provided by the McCormick Foundation.

In 2011, in addition to presenting checks totaling $1 million to 19 non-profit organizations, the OMYF-MFF also awarded two college scholarships totaling $30,000.

``Education is the key to the future of our youth and our community,” said Orlando Magic President Alex Martins. “It is programs like Take Stock in Children that make students’ academic dreams a reality. The OMYF is proud to provide deserving organizations like the Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools assistance with these important programs.”

The 2011 grant recipients from OMYF: Adult Literacy League, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Boys’ Town of Central Florida, Coalition for the Homeless, Conductive Education Center of Orlando, Crealde School of Art, Education Foundation-Osceola County, Elevate Orlando, Foundation for Orange County Public Schools, Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, Hebni Nutrition Consultants, Hope Foundation for the Homeless, Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando, Orlando Ballet, Florida Hospital for Children, Harbor House of Central Florida, Hope Community Center, Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families and the Valencia Community College Foundation.

In the ``Take Stock in Children’’ program, eighth grade students with free and reduced lunch status are invited to join the program with the promise that if they are strong students, abide by school rules and remain good citizens that they will have a four-year college scholarship promised to them.

Students are chosen based on their academic status, enrollment and school records. There are 1,200 to 1,700 students who get the invitations and the program invitees are selected by a leadership council. Twenty new students will be joining the program when school starts back in two weeks.

The program currently serves 82 students in the Seminole County school system and a total of 240 when factoring in students already enrolled in college as part of the scholarship program. The mentoring program extends into the first year-and-a-half of college to help with the transition to college and independent living.

``The students meet with a mentor every week of all four years of high school. And once they graduate from high school, their mentor will follow them those first 18 months of college as well,’’ Mraz said. ``All studies show that if you are going to lose a student in college, it’s usually in that first year. So we try to help them make that transition as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of support set up in the program.’’

While in high school, students in the program must keep a minimum 2.5 grade-point average, have no more than three unexcused absences a semester, use no drugs or alcohol and have no in-or-out-of-school suspensions. The students are called upon to be good role models for the other kids in school and are regularly called upon to assist with community service projects.

The promise awaiting the students who graduate – the program has a 99 percent success rate – and keep a 2.5 grade-point average – 79 percent did that last school year – is a nice one. Those students are awarded a ``two-plus-two’’ scholarship with two years of community college and two years at a Florida state university given at a value of $26,000.

School budget cuts briefly forced the college program to be cut back from 120 hours of college credits paid for the 72 hours funded. But Mraz said the grant money from the Magic helped the program restore the hope for students that they can someday attend college and attain a four-year degree.

``The grant money from the Magic really helped to put us over the top,’’ Mraz said. ``The scholarships are getting more and more expensive every year and last year we had to back down to a 72-hour scholarship instead of a 120-hour scholarship with the condition if the student did well we’d award additional credits to get back up to that 120 hours. But if we didn’t have that money from the Magic, that promise might not be possible. Every time you turn around, the Magic are helping out more and more organizations in the community and it’s just great to see.’’

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