The first day of school is a great time to talk about Take Stock in Children

Chuck Licis-Masson, the Executive Director of the Monroe County Education Foundation, which is involved in Take Stock in Children, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the first day of school.

Take Stock in Children starts out right on the first day.

Licis-Masson said, “This is my most exciting day of the year. I love the first day of school. The teachers love the first day of school, as well as the administrators. It’s going to be a great year. Looking ahead, the school district worked really hard over the summer. We were all hard at work, getting ready for this school year. The theme is We’re Going to Thrive. We’re going to thrive through this year, help our students succeed and make the best possible situation we can for our kids. We have a lot of new administrators in our schools. We have a new principal of Key West High School and a new principal at Sugarloaf School, and a new academy that opened up the College of the Florida Keys. So we have some new options out there for our kids.”

The first day of school is a good time to remind everyone to keep an eye out for heavier traffic on the roads.

Licis-Masson said, “Remember, school zones are also enforced now. So when you’re near school, slow down and make sure that you also stopp for the school buses. It’s a short week, but it really is a good way to start off because you get all the kids in for two days, get everyone acclimated to their schedules, work out all the kinks and then you hit the ground running next Monday, which is what we’re doing as well.”

The Take Stock scholarship opportunities are available now.

Licis-Masson said, “It will go out to all of our students starting today actually and in earnest next week, and everything is posted on our website. We do have new income guidelines. So parents will want to check that out as well on our website. A family of four cannot earn more than $70,525, for example, on their last year’s taxes. So that is the eligibility income. We also look at grades, attendance and behavior from previous years for our students. So if you have a sixth to ninth grade student in school, and you might meet that low income requirement, you might be eligible, your child might be eligible for a Take Stock scholarship opportunity, which is a phenomenal opportunity.”

Take Stock in Children was established in 1995 as a nonprofit organization and is very active in providing opportunities for deserving low income youth, helping escape the cycle of poverty through education.

The Monroe County Take Stock in Children can be found at

Licis-Masson said, “We fundraise to the Monroe County Education Foundation and we purchase the Florida Prepaid scholarships that are matched by the state. So every dollar that we raise is matched by the state of Florida and the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. On that website, is information about Take Stock in Children, eligibility requirements, as well as other information about what the foundation does here locally in Monroe County.”

What does the scholarship provide?

Licis-Masson explained, “The scholarship is really the carrot at the end of your high school career. We bring our students in grades six through nine. Of course, we serve students from grades six through 12. When starting the program, we assign them a volunteer mentor who meets with the student one day a week, for about 30 to 45 minutes during the school year. It starts up in early September and we go through May. We do not meet during school holidays. So it would be Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, there’s no mentoring occurring. Other than that, one day a week during the school year, we train our mentors, we give them a training course, we support them. We have success coaches, in a majority of our schools, middle school and high schools, we have a success coach in the Upper Keys, handling our school sites up there. We have a success coach in Marathon for Marathon Middle High School. We also have two in the Lower Keys, one in Key West High School and one at HOB who services the other schools throughout the Lower Keys, and they support our students but also support our mentors and make sure that they’re on track. A mentor is not a tutor. You did not have to be proficient in chemistry or AP Bio or English or math or calculus. You are basically a caring adult who will help guide that student through middle school and high school, help them ask questions and find the solutions and learn self-advocacy skills so they are ready to be successful in college when they do leave the Florida Keys and attend one of the 12 state universities or 28 state colleges with our Take Stock scholarship.”

Project Lead the Way is another way to help Take Stock in Children.

Licis-Masson said, “Project Lead the Way is embedded in our schools, is a STEM program, a curriculum that is a nationwide curriculum that’s being used here and in many districts across the country. What the foundation has done is we’ve helped kickstart a lot of those programs throughout the Keys in our schools. We have an elementary school program, middle school program and a high school program, in Project Lead the Way, and you’re developing those important STEM. Remember STEM is science, technology, engineering and math. So you’re looking at helping them develop those skills, mathematical skills, science skills, engineering, creativity. Typically when you think of STEM, you probably think of robotics and kids building robots and doing robot competitions. That’s part of it as well. What the foundation has done is work with the school districts to help provide the training that’s necessary as well as the supplies to kickstart this program in Monroe County. It has grown across the Keys and almost most of our schools I do believe.”

Almost 1,000 students involved in Take Stock in Children have received scholarships since 2001.

Licis-Masson said this year, “we are starting about 250. Remember, we graduated 62 students last May. So we start the year off with 62 less students from last year. So our goal this year is we want to recruit and bring in 80 or more students to bring us back up to between 325 and 350 is the goal for this year. We want to represent about 10% of the eligible population in the Florida Keys. It’s an opportunity for our students, not only to learn those necessary skills in middle school and high school to be successful for college, but they have that scholarship. We will help them through the process of college applications that get them into the school of their choice. Whether it’s a state school, a state university or State College, some of our students will apply out of state and private. We do have a student at Harvard, we had two at MIT, one at Stanford, and a couple at Embry Riddle as well. We also promote Career Technical Education, CTE programs, because we want our students to have a skill. I think it’s really important for all the kids today, as they graduate high school, they should have a skill, whether that’s in culinary or cosmetology, or whatever the case may be. We help them on that path. But we also understand that there are a lot of career opportunities out there including nursing, HVAC, construction, plumbing, electrical. Think of the jobs that are needed down here in the Florida Keys that we don’t have, we can’t fill. We are helping our students who are interested in that pathway, find the appropriate pathways and schools for them to earn those certificates so they can do what they want to do in life and career and be happy and earn some money and be successful.”

One of the success stories is Teddy, a graduate of Marathon High School who went off to South Carolina after being trained as an electrical linemen thanks to Take Stock in Children.

Licis-Masson said, “He also earned a secondary certificate in large machinery. So he’s able to operate a crane, for example, he can be the guy in the air conditioned booth in the crane and moving equipment around. We also have another student who is in his second year at Immokalee College learning diesel mechanics, and his passion is diesel mechanics. We do have students who are also interested in not only marine mechanics, but auto mechanics, as well as linemen. If you think you know of a child who would benefit from this program, definitely visit our website, but we also need mentors. For every student that we bring in, we have to have a mentor for that student. So there are two qualifications, we have to have a scholarship. The Foundation provides a scholarship that we park on that student when they come into the program. So a sixth grade student coming into the program, we have a scholarship assigned to that student waiting for a student to graduate and that scholarship then becomes active when a student graduates. But we also need that volunteer mentor. We cannot bring a student in unless we have the mentor because that is where our funding comes from. We received funding from the Florida Department of Education and it’s a mentoring program and that’s how we get paid in many ways. So we need to have mentors across the Keys from Key Largo down to Key West.”

Mentors come from all walks of life.

Licis-Masson said, “We have many, many, many great mentors, county commissioners, the mayor of Monroe County, and we’ve had not only elected officials, but also those who are working. We have mentors from the different industries. Sheriff Rick Ramsay is amazing at promoting Take Stock in Children mentoring amongst his team. So we have a lot of sheriff deputies and detectives and the like mentoring as well. But also retirees. We have retirees who have been heart surgeons, and now they mentor or different fields and backgrounds. We make it very simple because we have a Take Stock app. So the mentor and students can connect via an app through Take Stock in Children and get their virtual mentoring session. So we try to make it as easy as possible for both the mentor and the student. It only takes 30 to 45 minutes one day a week. I would say all of our mentors look forward to and build those bonds and relationships with kids and many of our mentors followed their students through college and life and beyond. They stay in contact. A lot of our mentors that have been there along the way of our kids who have earned their degrees and gotten married and had kids and on and on and on. So it’s really a rewarding experience and I would highly recommend it.”

For more information, call 305-293-1546 or click here: