(St. Augustine, Fla. – June 2, 2022) – The St. Johns County Education Foundation which operates as INK! (Investing in Kids), has an ongoing mission to provide innovative programs and classroom resources to promote the academic success of students in the St. Johns County School District, Fla. Since 1998, INK! has been the exclusive umbrella agency for Take Stock in Children® (TSIC), a statewide non-profit organization that offers deserving low-income students a unique opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty through education, mentorship, college success coaching, and the opportunity to earn college scholarships.
This year, the TSIC graduation event was held on May 23 at St. Augustine High School in St. Augustine, Fla. Eighteen TSIC students graduated with a special program highlighting the academic achievements each earned over the course of their high school careers. Graduating scholars earned college scholarships funded by individual donors, corporate sponsors and fundraising partners. Tim Forson, Superintendent of the St. Johns County School District, delivered opening remarks and recognized students, mentors, teachers, high school principals, school board members, INK! staff, and volunteers, among others.
Students are selected for TSIC when they are in the eighth grade in St. Johns County public schools. Upon acceptance into the program, students sign a contract to maintain a 2.5 grade point average (GPA), maintain good behavior and attendance, and remain drug and crime free. The program continues to be the only public-private partnership of its kind in the U.S.
One hundred percent of all monetary donations received by INK! for the Take Stock in Children program are directed to the purchase of scholarships for St. Johns County students and fully matched by the Florida Prepaid Foundation. Community partners and business owners have provided significant support which helps with an increasing demand for academic funding and the need for educational assistance as the burgeoning County grows, new schools are built and opened, and students arrive from across the U.S.
According to Donna Lueders, INK! Executive Director, the graduation event serves as a meaningful recognition of an outstanding group of graduates from the Class of 2022. “It has been our tradition to honor St. Johns County Take Stock in Children graduates at this event each year. With all of the happenings due to the pandemic which continued into this school year, this ceremony holds a special celebration for a respected group of graduates,” she said.
“Our event also honored TSIC mentors who are exceptional volunteers. They give their time, experience, and listening skills to students at critical points in their young lives. A mentor’s impact is truly profound, lasting well beyond the high school years of our young scholars,” said Lueders. “Mentors guide hundreds of students from their eight-grade year in public school to graduation status. One local mentor has volunteered with the program for more than 16 years,” she said.
According to James Wheeler, INK! Operations & Student Programs Director, all graduating seniors received scholarships, while several students were recognized for exceptional achievement during the ceremony. Wheeler is the long-time program director of Take Stock in Children (TSIC) in St. Johns County and manages the nonprofit’s assets and finance departments. Wheeler was the key presenter during the TSIC graduation ceremony. “Each of our graduating seniors earned a scholarship with a value of approximately $6500, equal to 60 credit hours of tuition at a state college in Florida.”
Jessica Fader from Pedro Menendez High School received a Flagler Health+ Scholarship. She is graduating with a GPA of more than 4.0 and will complete her Associate of Arts degree at St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine this summer. Fader participated in the Health Sciences Academy at the high school. She plans to pursue studies in nursing and attend the University of North Florida in the fall.
Additionally, Fader received the James Wheeler, Sr. Super Senior Scholarship valued at approximately $6,000 for her outstanding character, work ethic, community service, and academic success in high school. The scholarship is named after James Wheeler’s father, who took a special interest in the Take Stock in Children program while the senior was living at his son’s home during the pandemic. The elder Wheeler became acquainted with INK! and many TSIC students via virtual meetings and presentations.
Horace Taylor from Nease High School received a Flagler Health+ Scholarship. He is graduating from high school and from St. Johns River State College with his Associate of Arts degree. Taylor’s cumulative high school GPA is more than 4.2. In addition to earning the Bright Futures Scholarship, Taylor has been offered multiple scholarships by the University of Florida. He will be attending the University of Florida in the fall.
Aidan Bryant from St. Augustine High School received the Beaver Toyota Scholarship. Bryant is graduating with a cumulative high school GPA of 4.68. He completed his high school career with “A” grades in every class including 14 Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Program and advanced placement (AP) classes.
Bryant earned the prestigious AICE Diploma. In addition to earning the Bright Futures Scholarship, he has been awarded the Machen Scholarship which is the highest scholarship offered by the University of Florida. Bryant will be attending the University of Florida in the fall.
The Take Stock in Children, St. Johns County Outstanding Senior Academic Achievement Awards were presented to Taylor and Bryant. They will each receive a $500 award for books during their first year of college as bestowed by the Davidson Cares Foundation. The award is in honor of Mr. Sam Peyton, Sherry Davidson’s father who passed away in 2019. Sherry Davidson serves on the INK! and Take Stock in Children local board of directors and is the President of Davidson Realty Inc. in Northeast Florida.