Take Stock in Children has been helping students in Monroe County since 2001

Chuck Licis-Masson, County Program Coordinator for Take Stock in Children and the Executive Director of the Monroe County Education Foundation, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the program.

Sixty-four students graduated from Take Stock in Children this year representing four high schools.

Licis-Masson said, “That’s Coral Shores High School, Marathon High School, Key West High School and Somerset Island Prep. In fact, the Monroe County Education Foundation is granting scholarships to a total of 66 because two of our students who came into the program, have since transferred to a different program in another county and have completed the program and since they came in with us, they still belong to Monroe County Education Foundation. So we are awarding 66 scholarships actually.”

It is a testament to all of the mentors who took part in the program.

Licis-Masson said, “All those students they were meeting with a mentor once a week during the school year, some as early as seventh grade. Many of our students come in in seventh grade, some coming in eighth, ninth or 10th grade and they meet with a volunteer mentor once a week during the school year. That accumulates to I would say about 5,000 mentor hours for this graduating class in total, which is phenomenal.”

Is there interest in the Take Stock students for a technical career?

Licis-Masson said, “Every year we have about two or three students out of the graduating class who are interested in the CTE pathway, that career technical education pathway. Last year, we had a student go to Immokalee College in Immokalee, Florida for diesel mechanics and we had another one go into the fire academy. This year I have one going into the fire academy and two going into cosmetology. They’re interested in having their own either nail salon or going into the cosmetology field, which is really wide open if you think about it, because you can get involved in either television movies or private business, whatever the case may be, or even the modeling career and be a cosmetologist for the modeling agencies. So it’s a really a wide open career. Each year we have about, I would say three to five students who are interested in CTE and our scholarships, the Florida Prepaid scholarships we purchase can be applied to a CTE program in the state of Florida.”

How is the mentor program going into the next school year?

Licis-Masson said, “There’s always a need for more and I can’t thank my mentors enough for the time they give and the passion and the involvement they devote to our program and to their students. Time and time again, I hear from our mentors, that they feel like they are getting more out of it than the students and that they really enjoy it. They look forward to those weekly meetings, it’s a break from the normal day. We have mentors who are in full career, some who retired and others. It’s across the gamut. We have young, older, various stages of their careers. They really are our bedrock, our foundation. It’s heartwarming, when I when I was talking to the mentors at graduation, we all gathered in the cafeteria at Marathon High School prior to the ceremony, the students and the mentors, because the mentors, they process out with the students as they enter the auditorium to start the ceremony and it’s the handoffs, if you will, the mentor hands the student off, and the student then moves on to their next phase, their post secondary educational career. Most of those mentors, they said, I want to come back and I want to mentor another student next year. They’re really invested in that, so I can’t thank them enough and we are always in a need for mentors because we have more students in need in our county. We have students who are moving into our county. We have a pretty good Haitian population, I think that’s building in our in our communities as well and those students are going to qualify for Take Stock in Children and we want to be able to serve all eligible students and we can only do that if we have a mentor assigned to that student when they come into the program next October once the school year begins.”

Is there a need for mentors that speak other languages?

Licis-Masson said, “We do have some mentors who are fluent in other languages but really the opportunity to practice casual conversational English and to help the student that way. Our students do pretty well in in communicating. It’s the testing that’s the issue, the state testing, that’s where they have issues and difficulty and challenges because they haven’t been born and raised in this country and it can be a biased test against those who are not native language speakers in the United States. So our mentors, what they can do is they can they can help those students solidify some of those concerns, help them through those concerns and solidify their language abilities and practice some test taking skills as well. You know, how do you approach a test? A lot of it’s online now, sit in front of a computer. It’s not like when you and I took those tests and it was sitting in a big classroom, you had two pencils, your two number two pencils and the paper and off you go. So it’s all online now. It’s a different aspect, even though they’re used to computers, there’s still a level of test anxiety when it comes to completing a test online and knowing that you’re against the clock and you can get nervous. So our mentors are, I think, fundamental in helping them allay some of those concerns and anxieties, doing some practice and walking them through that process.”

A mentor is not going to give students money or take them to and from appointments.

Licis-Masson said, “Our mentors are another supportive adult role model in that child’s life. A mentor is not a parent or a teacher or a disciplinarian, or a taxi or an ATM. They are someone who asks questions and helps the student find answers. If the student is having a challenge, it’s not the mentor’s role to solve that problem for the student, but it’s the mentor’s role to ask the questions for the students to start thinking and discovering what the solutions could be, and then support the students on how to find those solutions. So we want our students to become strong self advocates when they leave Monroe County and they go off to college, and enter the real world so to speak, quote, unquote, after high school, that’s what our mentors will help them do. They’ll give them those tools in their toolbox to be successful after high school.”

Take Stock in Children can begin as early as sixth grade.

Licis-Masson said, “So what we’re doing, we don’t sit back and relax over the summer months. We’re full planning for the ‘24/’25 school year. So we are going through the student lists, the current fifth grade, rising up to sixth grade and then again, the sixth, seventh, and eighth and ninth grades, that they’re rising up and taking a look at their GPAs, their grades, and trying to identify some potential candidates for Take Stock in Children. It’s still a surprise to me that there are a lot of people, a lot of families who are unaware of the program, they do not know what the program is about, or they’re unclear about the program. So it’s our role to educate the students and the parents come August, what this opportunity is, and why they should consider it for their child and why the child should consider it for college. Our sixth graders, if you think about graduation, and going off to college, when you’re in sixth grade, that is a lifetime away. So it’s our goal to help them realize that this is a positive program that has a pathway to college, and that we can help them along the way. So that’s what we’re doing this summer, we’re identifying those students and then come August when students return on August 14, we are going to hand out flyers and information, we’ll have some informational nights as well, for parents to attend, and to instruct them and teach them a little bit about Take Stock in Children and give them access to the online application and we’ll go from there.”

Some Take Stock in Children students are also able to get some assistance with trips and other extracurricular activities.

Licis-Masson said, “The Monroe County Education Foundation is looking into summer programs, summer enrichment programs for Take Stock in Children students. We have partnered with Experiment International Living for quite a while and that’s a four to five week trip overseas. They have programs, I think on almost every continent, and it involves a homestay, a family stay for a week or two. It’s a small group environment. They work with two chaperones, two group leaders, and it is a self discovery and how do you get along with others. It’s really a growth opportunity, that trip while you’re in another country. So what we’re also looking at, though, is, and I don’t know how much more we’ll be able to sustain that program, but we’re looking at more domestic programs at university. So I have a student currently, who is attending a program at Berkeley in California, and I think it’s focused on medicine, I believe. We have another student who’s going to UM to a Leadership Council camp at the University of Miami. These are less expensive trips, but they’re domestic and again, it gives the students an opportunity to focus on a possible career pathway and visit a school and live on a college campus for a week. So we’re really pushing that for our ninth, tenth and eleventh grade students to look at those summer opportunities. That’s an area I think we’d like to grow is to have our students do those summer opportunities on various college campuses across the country.”

The website has all information anyone would need.

Licis-Masson said, “We’re always looking for mentors, and we’re always looking for scholarship dollars as well, because if you donate to Take Stock in Children Monroe, every dollar is matched by the state of Florida. So if you donate $50, it becomes $100, $1,000 becomes $2,000, etc. Every dollar helps and it goes towards helping our students succeed, and that allows us to purchase those Florida Prepaid two plus two scholarships at a reduced price, 50% off. That affords a student tuition, 60 hours of college credits, 60 hours in university credits, and rolled into that package, we also have two year dormitory plans to help our students with housing when they do go to the mainland for two years. So it really is a game changer for our kids.”

The application process will begin in August.

Licis-Masson said, “When the students return to school on August 14, we will have everything ready to go. Take Stock in Children is going to a new student software system and they’re putting everything online. That goes live on July 1. We’ll need about a month to work out all the bugs and the kinks and make sure everything is all ready to go. But we’ll have a link and a QR code and all of the information ready to go by August 14th when the students come back to school and that’s a happy day for many of us. I’m looking forward to it and I know the parents probably will be looking forward to that day, too.”

More than 1,100 students have taken part since 2001.

Licis-Masson said, “We have given away a lot of scholarships and helped a lot of students and our success rate shows 75% of our students earn a college degree or a career certificate. So we’re doing great things and it’s to the thanks of the community, the donors in our community and the mentors in our community. So thank you.”

For more information, click here:  https://monroecountyedfound.com/about-take-stock