The Education Foundation of Alachua County takes its mission of investing in the future of Alachua County Public School students very seriously! With the number of students on free and reduced lunch rising each year, combined with the dismal high school graduation rates of students at the poverty level, the foundation board decided to take a bold step and launch a community initiative called Get On The Bus!
“We want the community to realize the vastness of these growing issues, and to recognize that we have a proven solution to getting these students to make good grades, remain crime and drug free, graduate from high school and go on to college,” says the foundation’s executive director, Judy Boles.
This solution is called Take Stock in Children, which is a program targeted specifically for low-income, at-risk youth in our community. It offers them a volunteer mentor, plus case management and academic support throughout middle school and high school. If the students stay in the program, maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average, meet the attendance and behavior requirements of their school, remain crime and drug free, and meet with their volunteer mentor each week throughout the school year, they are given a two-year Florida Prepaid College Scholarship upon high school graduation.
Students enrolled in Take Stock in Children have a 92 percent high school graduation average compared to the 57 percent average of their at-risk peer group, and 86 percent of these students go straight into college. These impressive statistics compelled the Education Foundation board to grow the program in order to attack poverty and improve graduation rates in Alachua County. From 1996 through 2011, the foundation provided 20 Take Stock in Children scholarships per year to Alachua County public school students. In the 2012-2013 academic year, the foundation accepted 71 new students into the program.
The Get On The Bus community initiative’s goal is to accept 100 new students each year from 2013-2020. It costs $8,000 to purchase one two-year Florida Prepaid Tuition scholarship. The foundation must raise $4,000 per scholarship from private donations, which then is matched with $4,000 from the Florida Legislature to provide the scholarship. In total, this initiative will involve a $2.4 million investment from the community. However the foundation believes that the benefits far outweigh the cost. “Providing 600 underprivileged students with the means to create better futures for themselves would drastically change the educational and economic climate in Alachua County,” Boles says.
Dug Jones, Vice President of Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development and President of the Education Foundation, also agrees that this is a worthy cause for the community to rally behind. “The citizens of Alachua County believe in education for their children. This is a proven product that changes the lives of so many and raises the bar! We can truly make a difference in the high school graduation rates, decrease crime and drug rates and put more productive people in the workforce”
Another challenge the Foundation faces is the task of recruiting a volunteer mentor for each student. Mentors are a critical component to the success of Take Stock in Children. They serve as positive role models, advocates, coaches and friends. “For every student, we need a volunteer mentor that will meet with their student one hour, one day a week to help them stay focused on their goals,” says Princella Thorpe, Student Advocate of the Alachua County Take Stock in Children Program. The Education Foundation has two fulltime student advocates whose sole job is to recruit and train mentors, as well as to monitor student behavior. “We are looking for any individuals in the community who are interested in making a difference in the life of a child,” says the foundation’s other student advocate, Stephen Griffin. Although the students are mentored from 7th through 12th grades, mentors are only asked to commit per school year, so as to make the commitment more manageable.
The Education Foundation kicked off the “Get On The Bus” community initiative in October of 2012 and has raised more than $260,000 so far. For the 2013-2014 school year, 70 students have been accepted, with another 30 being inducted in the fall. The foundation currently is looking for individuals to donate or sign up to become mentors. “In order to make this initiative successful, we need everyone to ‘Get On The Bus’ for education,” says Boles.
For more information about Get On The Bus, visit The Education Foundation’s website at www.EdFoundationAC.org, or call (352) 955-7003.