Impacting Lives at Bookends of Educational Journey

Guest Correspondence

BY JENNIFER VIGNE SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 3, 2021

Our core belief at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is that education changes lives—from the early years to high school graduation and beyond.

We are fortunate that our work affords us rare and valuable opportunities to see bookends of the K-12 educational journey up close and personal.

Recently, I was privileged to witness the pride, joy, awe and excitement experienced by kindergarteners and high school seniors at starting and closing chapters of their respective educational journeys.   

I was at Wilkinson Elementary School when the discovery was made that a “meteor” had landed and created a crater on campus, and NASA “scientists” (university science professors in real life) were at the site analyzing the impact.

The simulation kicked off a weeklong schoolwide immersive learning experience funded by the Education Foundation and responsive to the school’s principal and staff who requested the interactive project to help students engage safely while following pandemic-related limitations on campus activities.  

Comprehensive preparation for the science-based scenario included professional development for faculty, cross-curricular sample lessons, and lessons designed to develop scientific inquiry.

But to the elementary age students on that first day of discovery, particularly the kindergarteners, there was pure wonder. I was inspired and filled with optimism as I witnessed their innocent, inquisitive, imaginative, and often humorous engagement with and reactions to the exciting mystery.

“I knew that was a meteor. I heard it while I was sleeping last night.”

“I saw a shooting star last night. It could have been this meteor!”

“My fish tank was shaking last night. That must have been when the meteor landed.”

Leaving the site to science professors to show elementary school students how to quarantine the meteor, process the site, and make scientific observations, my team and I prepared to celebrate the achievements of high school seniors who have been selected as STRIVE award recipients.

The Education Foundation’s STRIVE award recognizes high school seniors, from each of the seven district schools, who have overcome significant obstacles and challenges to improve their lives and are pursuing a purposeful postsecondary pathway.

Their personal stories are bold testimonials about how the power of education really has changed the trajectory of their lives and helped them to realize success in their own defined ways.

While kindergarteners show wide-eyed wonder, the seniors display hard-earned resilience and determination. Their personal stories are inspiring, moving, and often profound. They can restore the souls and hopes of fortunate witnesses.

There is the story of a young woman who refused to allow a lifelong stutter to define her and instead helps younger children who stutter, sings in chorus, and appeared in a televised documentary about stuttering. She plans to be a speech pathologist.

There’s the young man who struggled to be fluent in English when his family moved back and forth between countries. He mastered his classes, started clubs and programs at his school to help other students facing the same challenge, and served on the superintendent’s advisory council. He plans to get a doctorate in engineering.

STRIVE recipients often work 20 or more hours per week at part-time jobs, earn 4.0 and higher GPAs in honors classes, and are leaders in school and community volunteer efforts. Their ability to overcome challenges and surpass expectations truly is awe-inspiring.

In coming weeks, we will be sharing more STRIVE recipients’ stories in local media and through our Education Foundation social media and website.

And everyone can help celebrate them by joining a virtual STRIVE celebration event on April 23. There is no cost to participate but many rewards to be gained by witnessing their successes. I invite you to come and help us celebrate our STRIVE award recipients and all graduating seniors by following this link.

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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