Smith Middle students awarded college scholarships
Genesis Monterroso may be only in the sixth grade, but she already knows she has a college scholarship waiting on her several years down the road.
Genesis, a student at Sgt. Paul R. Smith Middle School in the Citrus Park area, is one of 37 Smith Middle students who learned recently they have been awarded scholarships from a statewide program run locally by the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
“It’s amazing. It’s shocking,” a giddy Genesis said. “I can’t believe at such a young age I already have a college scholarship.”
She’d love to go to Harvard one day, but she will have to opt for a Florida school under the Take Stock in Children program. She wants to become a scientist and come up with cures for cancer or other diseases.
“It feels good to know it’s already paid for,” Genesis said.
Knowing that is also a relief for her mother, Maydarling Morales.
“She couldn’t believe it,” Genesis said. “She was crying.”
The students at Smith represented half of the 74 scholarships handed out by the foundation. The school at 14303 Citrus Pointe Drive receives federal money to help close achievement gaps under the legislation known as Title 1.
Students must qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch to be eligible for the program that has been around since 1995. The scholarships can be awarded to students in sixth through 10th grades.
The scholarships pay for college tuition only – not books or room and board or other costs related to college life. The scholarships come in three forms – two years of community college, two years of community college and two years of university, and four years of university.
Students must maintain good grades and good behavior for the rest of their public school years, according to the provisions of the scholarships. They also are assigned a mentor.
“D’s and F’s are not going to cut it,” said Pat Wharton, who works for the foundation. “You have to earn it. You have to stay out of trouble and you have to keep your grades up.
“There is a way to lose the scholarship, but it’s your choice.”
Saphire Gonzalez, a seventh-grader at Smith, said she plans to work hard to make sure she has a secure future education.
“I want to be a psychologist or a marine biologist,” she said, perhaps at the University of Central Florida.
“I’m very impressed and very proud of her,” said her mother, Nancy Gonzalez. “She has worked very hard.”
More than 1,000 students from Hillsborough County have been helped by the scholarships, in which half of the money comes from the state and the other half comes from private donors. More than 350 students are involved in the program.
Pamela Cabral, a teacher at Smith, loves what the program offers to children. She jumped at the chance to get as many children as possible to apply for the scholarships.
“I was all over it,” she said. “I thought it was the most amazing thing. I saw how lives could be changed through these scholarships.”