The mentoring/scholarship program Take Stock in Children, which the Monroe County School District says is the marquee Take Stock program in Florida, signed up 56 income-qualifying middle and high school students this past week at ceremonies from Key Largo to Key West.
Under a contract they sign in seventh grade, the students agree to stay crime- and drug-free, maintain good grades and get involved in community service. They also meet once a week with a mentor.
If successful through graduation from high school, they are rewarded with a scholarship good for two years at one of Florida's 28 community colleges, followed by two years at one of the 12 state colleges or universities. The educations are financed through public and private money invested in the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.
John Padget, vice chairman of the state Board of Education and a former Keys schools superintendent, has taken Monroe County's lead in Take Stock through the Monroe County Education Foundation. He also signs the contract.
"For the time you're with us," Padget told new enrollees in Key West, "we're going to change your life. That's a promise. You're going to college. What we're going to do is kick open some doors."
After hearing "how great it is" from his older brother Melson, 17 and a junior at Key West High, freshman Rodney Maxime, 15, signed with Take Stock this week as proud parents Aleus and Philosane looked on. Rodney speaks English, Creole and French; teaches guitar, piano and drums for the Bahama Village Music Program; and plays basketball.
"I want to own a business some day," he said, identifying his interests as administration and engineering.
He said his parents moved to Florida from Haiti "for a better life" and that Take Stock is a good example of that.
Take Stock Success Coach Chuck Licis said Rodney's brother Melson "was eager to enter the program" before he signed up in the spring semester.
Melson wasn't on hand Thursday because he was running at a prep cross-country event in Miami. But Licis said Melson, like Rodney, wants to be a business owner someday.
He "knows that to attain his dream of being an entrepreneur and having his own business, he must earn a college education."
With the new additions, there are now 244 Monroe County students enrolled in Take Stock. Over the program's 13-year local history, 435 students have earned scholarships. There are 6,947 students enrolled statewide.
Programs offered to Take Stock participants include leadership, excellence and accelerating potential, hosted on the University of California-Los Angeles campus and giving students a peek at college life; and the Experiment in International Living, which sends students around the globe to stay with host families and become immersed in a foreign culture for around a month.
Take Stock is driven by volunteer mentors who agree to spend an hour each week helping students.