It’s not surprising to find Anika Yasmin at a tutoring center with other students after school.
She’s one of many Florida students whose family is hard working, kind and is considered “low income.” But Yasmin is not the one who is being tutored. With a 4.0 GPA, she’s the one doing the tutoring, and this fall she will enter Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a four-year, $120,000 scholarship provided by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Yasmin is one of 37 students who graduated from the Take Stock in Children program last Saturday at Marathon High School. TSiC is a flagship program of the Monroe County Education Foundation. It has served more than 22,000 children in 67 counties in the state of Florida and serves more than 65 percent of the minority students in the state.
“In the beginning, our goal was to keep them [children] in high school and keep them out of jail,” said John Padget, MCEF’s president emeritus and vice chair of the State Board of Education.
In the 14 years since TSiC’s inception, it has evolved into something much greater than just keeping kids in school, Padget said.
“Now our goal is for the students to graduate at the baccalaureate level,” he said.
The program takes root while students are in the sixth grade. To qualify, students must come from a low income family and pass the state’s FCATs, which means they can read and write at grade level.
Once students enter seventh grade, they and their parents must sign a contract stating that they will remain drug free, stay out of trouble, maintain a minimum of a “C” average, and graduate from high school.
“If they are successful, then all tuition and fees are paid for,” Padget said.
Students who graduate from the program may attend any of Florida’s 28 colleges for the first two years, then attend two more years at any of the state’s universities.
But students aren’t expected to go it alone.
“The key to our program is our mentors,” said Padget.
Students are matched with volunteers with similar interests and are required to meet on a weekly basis. In addition, there are “Success Coaches” at the schools who monitor the student’s progress and help them stay on track. To help students become well rounded, they are encouraged to travel abroad through a program also under the umbrella of MCEF.
Cali Roberts, assistant director of Womankind, a not-for-profit healthcare center for both men and women in Key West, has seen the results of mentoring first hand after mentoring Yasmin for the past six years.
“When she was younger, she was the typical adolescent, but she has become an extraordinary young lady, mature and ready to take on the world. She couldn’t be more ready for college,” Roberts said.
“When I think of the success I’ve had, I will always think of my mentor,” Yasmin said. “She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Even with her mentor by her side, the road to graduation hasn’t been an easy one. Last fall Yasmin’s mother became paralyzed on her left side.
“Anika has taken on the role of a parent. She gets her younger sister ready for school, helps her with her homework, cooks and fills out paperwork for the family,” Roberts said. “A lot of kids are smart and can take tests, but Anika has learned to master life.”
Yasmin will attend MIT this fall and will be studying biochemical engineering.
“I want to go into a field that will help people like my mom,” she said. “When I first signed up, I thought this was just a scholarship program. It’s so much more. They encourage you to do amazing things. Without them, I would have never traveled to Scotland. Who knows if I would have even gone to college. They changed my life.”