Alachua County Education Foundation Boosts Student Finances and Self-Esteem

When Mark Bryant, a 17-year-old senior with Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School, heard about the Take Stock in Children’s program, he knew very little about it, nor the organization that started the program – The Education Foundation. of Alachua County.

All he knew was that he had friends on the program whose mentors met them for special lunches.

“I started hanging out with my friends and their mentors and eventually got an interview for it,” Mark said.

Mark is one of 59 students in Alachua County who will receive a two-year prepaid college scholarship in Florida for any college or technical program, as part of the Take Stock in Children program. And he is one of 58 students to be awarded a scholarship under the Education Foundation’s graduate scholarship program.

This year, the Education Foundation was able to award nearly $ 700,000 in scholarships to senior graduates.

The amount of $ 700,000 is a combination of the graduate scholarship program and the Take Stock in Children program, which awarded $ 472,000. Through the graduate scholarship program, they were to raise $ 220,000 in grants.

The Education Foundation is a 35-year-old Gainesville-based non-profit organization with a mission to invest in public school students in Alachua County.

For the graduate scholarship program, 38 families, local businesses and civic organizations came together to create the scholarship opportunities.

“It’s really like a whole community effort to get these organizations and individuals supporting a local student’s dream to go to college,” said Rachel Debigare, director of the foundation.

There were 37 scholarships offered. Each scholarship has its own requirements, such as targeting students from a particular high school or college they are heading to.

Students join Take Stock in Children early

Students can be accepted into the Take Stock in Children’s program from the seventh through the ninth grade.

The aim of the program is to give high-performing students from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to pursue higher education.

“We really prefer the majority of our selected kids in middle school just because we believe in this type of support for a long time and it’s also helpful for us to be able to help them through high school,” Debigare said.

Students in the program must maintain an average of 2.5 GPA and commit to staying drug and crime free. Students are placed with a volunteer mentor who meets with them throughout the school year.

Loften High School senior Mark Bryant, 17, leans next to his longboard against a mural at Tom Petty Park on Tuesday in Gainesville, Florida.  Bryant is the recipient of several scholarships and plans to study graphic design technology at Santa Fe College.  He will be the first person in his mother's family to attend college. [Chasity Maynard/Special to The Sun]

Students should also be entitled to a free or discounted lunch at the school they attend.

Mark was accepted into the program in eighth grade. He remembered preparing for his interview for the program, feeling like it was an intense job interview. It wasn’t that bad, he said.

“They asked me what I wanted to do in college and in the future, basic scholarship questions… At the time, I wanted to be a video game designer,” Mark said.

It was the mentorship that drew him to the program, as well as his determination to attend college.

Mark will be a first generation student. He said his mother graduated from high school and his father made a living as a welder.

“It was awesome,” Mark said of his acceptance into the program. “And they just offer to pay for two years [college] like it was nothing.

Mark’s mentor in the program was Floyd Settmaw. They met when Bryant was in the ninth grade.

“My mentor was awesome, I don’t think I could have had a better game,” said Mark.

Settmaw and Bryant met once a week for lunch, and he often brought Bryant a meal of his choice, such as a burrito from Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Mark said Settmaw was in the military and worked at Disney Studios. The Sun attempted to contact Settmaw for comment, but was unsuccessful.

“He’s always been there if I needed to talk and honestly it’s really easy to talk,” Mark said.

Debigare said the program is still in need of mentors, and right now they particularly need 15 male mentors to join.

Mentors must complete an application and undergo a background check.

“Then we have someone on the staff who reviews the mentors and compares them to the students that we have,” Debigare said. “The app for mentors and students allows us to see a little bit into their lives and understand what their interests are.”

Bryant’s future looks bright

Mark received the two-year prepaid scholarship under the Take Stock in Children’s program and the Dr. Dan McKinnon Memorial scholarship for $ 2,000 under the graduate scholarship program.

The Dr. Dan McKinnon Scholarship is awarded to a senior at Loften High School who plans to continue their education at Santa Fe College as part of a vocational / technical training program.

In the fall, Mark will begin his academic career at SF College in a technical education program focused on graphic design.

He said he was grateful to the education foundation for both the resources it provided and for leaving him optimistic about his future.

“They just helped me. It is always a reminder to stay on track, apart from all the services they provide. I’ve always seen this as a reason to do good, because I have an opportunity that other kids don’t have, and I don’t want to waste it, ”said Mark.


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