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PHCC restarts high school scholarship program

Take Stock in Children will benefit Hernando students from low-income families for the first time in two years.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


After two years of dormancy, a program that guarantees college scholarships to low-income students who pledge to work hard and stay out of trouble is being revived.

Take Stock in Children, a non-profit program that exists in more than 50 Florida counties, is being rejuvenated in Hernando County by Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Created in 1996 by Barnett Bank, Take Stock in Children was a tool aimed at reducing both youth crime and high school dropout rates.

It targeted children whose families live below the federal poverty level, giving them adult mentors and a guaranteed college scholarship if they maintained good grades, avoided drugs and criminal behavior and graduated high school.

The program pays full tuition for two years at a community college and another two years at a four-year school.Originally, 14 Hernando County middle school students entered the program, which was jointly operated by Barnett Bank and the Hernando County Education Foundation.

The students and their parents signed the agreements, and the organization purchased their Florida prepaid scholarships.

But when Barnett Bank was gobbled up and shuffled around in the first of a series of bank mergers, the program proved too costly for the education foundation to run by itself, said Nancy Levija, who worked for Barnett and with the foundation at the time.

So, for more than two years, no new Hernando County students have been added to the roll of kids shepherded under the Take Stock in Children program. That remained the case until last fall, when Take Stock's statewide organization in Jacksonville approached PHCC about picking up the program, which it announced last week it was doing.

"We feel as though we have an obligation to reach out to the community," said Imani Asukile, PHCC's equity officer and minority recruiter. The college has assigned Asukile and a new staff member hired in January to carry out the program.

Across Florida, more than 4,000 children are currently enrolled in the Take Stock program.

In Hernando County, there are just 15 Take Stock students -- the 14 originally selected and one child who moved here after being enrolled in Marion County. All of them are now high school sophomores and juniors. Five are at Central High, four are at Hernando High and six are at Springstead.

Douglas Doidge, a sophomore at Springstead, entered the Take Stock program as a seventh-grader. Since he started high school, Doidge has maintained a 4.2 grade point average on a weighted scale of 4.0.

"I think it's really good that it's been passed along through the bank changes," Doidge said. "It's always nice having the money there. It's kind of an incentive to keep going."

Take Stock generally works with middle school guidance counselors in selecting children. To be eligible, the students must be in grades 3-9 and come from a family with an income below the poverty level.

The students sign a contract whereby they pledge to remain drug- and crime-free, maintain "satisfactory grades" and exhibit good behavior in school.

As Asukile sees it, the scholarships are just the carrot that draws kids into the program. He says the heart of Take Stock is its mentoring program, another aspect that has lain dormant. It involves each child being assigned an adult who meets with them on a weekly basis.

Some of the students have not reached their academic potential. Many come from families who have never sent a child to college. The mentors, Asukile says, can help the kids stay on the path to success.

Asukile says PHCC will soon begin a new fundraising effort aimed at building up Take Stock's scholarship program in Hernando County. That will enable more students to take part.

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