INK!, Take Stock in Children recognizes students, mentors, educational leaders

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Take Stock In Children and its local umbrella organization, INK!, held a graduation ceremony May 26 at St. Augustine High School for all program students.

“The graduation event served as an extremely exciting time, as we get to recognize an outstanding group of graduates from the class of 2021,” said James Wheeler, Take Stock in Children program director with INK! “It has been our tradition to honor our students and bring in the new class of eighth graders at the same event each year. With all of the happenings due to the pandemic since March 2020, this year holds a special celebration for a respected group of graduates.”

St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson offered opening remarks and recognition of school board members, dignitaries, area high school principals, INK! staff, teachers, mentors and sponsors, among others.

“We are extremely grateful for the years of dedication and devotion from local volunteer mentors for our senior class,” said Forson. “If you look up the definition of mentor, it reads, ‘A trusted counselor or guide.’ I have adopted a new description of what a mentor means to our students and families, and it’s less dictionary and more real world. A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.”

Wheeler added that mentors in Take Stock in Children give their time, experience and listening skills to students at critical points in their young lives.

“A mentor’s impact is truly profound, lasting well beyond the high school years of our young scholars,” he said.

Fifteen mentors who have guided hundreds of students from their eighth-grade year in public school to graduation status, were recognized. One of the mentors has been in the volunteer program for more than 14 years.

Outstanding seniors were called to the stage with family members and friends to be recognized with their scholarships, gifts and medals while the audience was told about each student’s high GPAs and school and sports performance.

Honored students were from Allen D. Nease, Bartram Trail, Creekside, Pedro Menendez, St. Augustine, and St. Johns Technical high schools.

Many students also received additional scholarships from local and national educational foundations and other funding sources.

The Take Stock in Children Florida Outstanding Senior Award went to Spencer Wolfe of Bartram Trail High School, and the RSM Foundation Super Senior Scholarship was awarded to Germari Rickerson of St. Augustine High School.

The event included a presentation recognizing the largest Take Stock in Children graduating class in the local program’s history, as well as student perseverance during the pandemic.

“We really wanted to be able to do something meaningful for these students, and funding to do this was a challenge,” said Wheeler. “Then, amazingly, we had an anonymous donor present significant gifts to graduating students with all receiving brand-new laptop computers to help them as they transition to their next academic journey.”

INK! provides innovative resources to support academic success for all St. Johns County public schools to benefit 44,000 students and approximately 2,785 teachers. The office is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine. For further information, contact INK! Executive Director Donna Lueders at 904-547-7120 or email Donna.Lueders@stjohns.k12.fl.us. The website is www.ink-stjohns.org.

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