Take Stock in Children will see 65 student graduate from the program this year

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.

It’s hard to believe the end of the school year is upon us soon.

Licis-Masson said, “It goes it goes by fast. We’re looking at only a few more weeks of school through the end of May. For Take Stock in Children, we’re focused on wrapping up the school year. We’re looking at our seniors, and all of our seniors have applied to schools, whether they’re state universities or state colleges, wherever the path may be. We graduate our kids, they receive their scholarships on May 18, at 11am, at Marathon auditorium at Marathon Middle High School, which is an exciting event when we get to celebrate our 65 students earning those scholarships, and send them off to the schools of their choice.”

Take Stock in Children is a mentorship/scholarship program.

Licis-Masson explained, “We look at students who meet income qualifications, so they’re low income. We have an income guideline criteria for based on family size, household size. The reason why we do that is because the scholarships that we purchase are state matched through the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. We then have to meet those income criteria for it to receive that state match. Then we also look at grades attendance and behavior. The student has to have a minimum of a 2.0. So we’re looking at students of a certain economic demographic, and who are doing well in school or struggling in school, so to speak. That way, we can help them with a mentor and move them forward. So, when they come into the program, we assign them a mentor and the mentor meets with the student one day a week. The mentor is not a tutor, the mentor is typically a volunteer from the community who will help that student learn self advocacy skills, so they can be successful in life and when they go off to college.”

The students are given all the skills and support necessary to help them succeed.

Licis-Masson said, “We run workshops. Our program is designed on that success. So not only in high school, we want our students to be successful in middle school and high school and excel, earn the best GPA possible, take those challenging courses, we encourage our students to do AP, advanced placement, or dual enrollment courses. Then we help them with those skills as well to be successful in college because when they meet with their mentor on a weekly basis, they have that support network, but when they do go off to college, they are on their own. So when they leave the Florida Keys and go to, let’s say the University of Central Florida with 70,000 students. Well, you can imagine that it could be a bit overwhelming for students coming from a small community, such as the Upper Keys, Middle Keys or Lower Keys and then find themselves on a campus that is three times the size of their hometown.”

Is 65 students this year a typical number for those graduating?

Licis-Masson said, “So far it has been. Now next year, we have right now I have 74 juniors, so we’re going to have even a larger class next year. We brought in over 100 students this year, which is a high watermark for new students coming to the programs in grades six through 10. So we are seeing a growing. We are hovering around between 60 and 70 students, every graduation year, which runs about 10% of that of the school senior population. So if you look at Monroe County schools, all the seniors graduating this year, Take Stock in Children will represent 10% of those students.”

Between 90 and 95% of the students in Take Stock in Children will graduate.

Licis-Masson said, “We do lose students through the process. Students who struggle with grades, our students come from a variety of backgrounds, so they have a lot of obstacles, and sometimes those obstacles can be a little bit too difficult to overcome. So they might struggle with grades or behavior or attendance issues, and we’ll have to let them go. Sometimes we have students who, you wouldn’t think it, but they want to resign from Take Stock because they find it’s a little too overwhelming with all of the extra additional things they have to do, the responsibilities. So they prefer not to be a part of the program. We’re an optional program, it’s not a requirement. We look for students who are looking ahead to college or career technical education, who need the assistance, and will commit to the work and meet with a mentor and invest that time and effort to be successful then after high school.”

Funding certainly helps the program.

Licis-Masson said, “We couldn’t do it without the generosity of our communities, our Rotary Clubs and different organizations and individuals who contribute to Take Stock in Children and permit us to purchase those scholarships for our incoming students. We were just in Marathon earlier this week, and Marathon is stepping up and providing some significant funding as well for the Marathon program. We’re very appreciative of that. They’re very helpful and very, very generous. On the other side of the coin, you have all the volunteer mentors, because every student we bring into the program, we have to have a volunteer mentor. They are phenomenal. They are really our army of caring individuals who make the program run. I just describe myself as the guy who sits at a computer and tries to coordinate everything and make the world easier for our students, for mentors and for our coaches and they really put the hard work in and I’m very appreciative of our mentors and our coaches.”

It’s a rewarding program that doesn’t require a lot of time on the mentor’s part.

Licis-Masson confirmed, “It’s one hour a week tops. It’s really 30 minutes, probably during the week. But the commitment that you put in emotionally is tremendous. You really get attached to your student. If you start in sixth grade, and you think about spending six years watching this child grow from a sixth grader to a senior and going off to college, many of our mentors will even continue to follow our students into college and then be part of their lives when that student graduates college and earns a degree and possibly gets married and has children and on and on and on. We have a lot of mentors who have been part of their mentees life events beyond high school, which is very, it’s wonderful to see.”

What challenges face Take Stock in Children?

Licis-Masson said, “The population tends to per students wise, of course, we have more students in Key West than we do in the other parts of the Keys. In fact, Key West High School has the largest number of Take Stock in Children students in any single high school in the state of Florida. It is one of our badges of honor. Marathon is growing, we do see a population moving from Key West up to Marathon, because of housing. So that’s an issue. The Upper Keys is growing as well, we added a lot of students, we’re over 100 students in the Upper Keys. Mentor’s, that’s probably the greatest challenge is finding mentors. As our community is changing into a more seasonal, transient, and I don’t want to say transient as in move into the Keys, work for a few years and move out. It’s more of the seasonal residents where they have second homes, third homes that come down for a week or two, and then they leave. We have fewer and fewer full time residents who can commit and give. So that’s probably our greatest challenge. That’s what worries me the most is making sure that we have enough mentors in our communities to meet the needs of our students and to run the program because I can’t have a student of the program without a mentor, but I’m so proud of our communities, because I put the call out and I say, look, we have these students, and our coaches are phenomenal as well and the mentors do step up. I go to the Rotary Clubs, and I talk about service above self and I say we need you to step up, we have these wonderful students who need to come to the program, we want them in the program, but we need to have a mentor and this is what’s involved. They show up when we need them, which is wonderful. I just hope they continue to do so.”

The process for mentors can begin at any time and the fall intake will be in October 2024.

Licis-Masson said, “They can contact my office at 305-293-1546. Miss Tammy Baker is my administrative assistant data specialists. She’s phenomenal and she will help you through the process.”

People can also log onto the website below to begin the process.

What happens if a student has to move out of the county?

Licis-Masson said, “There exists a network of Take Stock in Children affiliates across the state of Florida. So if they move to a Florida County, they can transfer to another Take Stock in Children program in Florida as long as that school where they go is being serviced by a Take Stock program. So when that student completes high school, we track that student in say Volusia County, they move up to Volusia County, they’re in school, they’re still in Take Stock, they’re assigned a mentor. That program oversees the high school career of that student. We also monitor it from Monroe and when that student graduates, that student will receive one of our scholarships because that student signed a contract with us. Now, the caveat is if they move out of state, then they forfeit the contract and the scholarship opportunity, unfortunately.”

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