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February 14, 2003

Contact: Pam Bryant
Florida Board of Education
(850) 201-7130

Florida Department of Education Celebrates All American Success in Workforce Education

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida Department of Education campaign designed to promote student successes in career and technical or adult education programs has identified nine exemplary winners. The following individuals were honored this week in Tallahassee as part of the Department’s All American Success Stories Ceremony:

  • Registoire Gedeus, GED Program, Indian River Community College, Fort Pierce.
  • Dana Berry, Adult Education Program, Santa Rosa County School District, Milton.
  • Lou Ann Austin, Technical Education Program, Bradford County School District, Lawtey.
  • Theresa Alcantar, Electricity Apprenticeship Program, Orange County School District, Orlando.
  • Conrad L. Boger, Radiography Program, Valencia Community College, St. Cloud.
  • Tonja Edwards, Cosmetology Program, Manatee County School District, Bradenton.
  • Jonah A. Perkins, Criminal Justice Program, Pinellas County School District, St. Petersburg.
  • Melanie Peter, Practical Nursing Program, Polk County School District, Lakeland.
  • Jose Garcia, Industrial Electronics, Miami-Dade County School District, Pembroke Pines.

The "All American Success Stories” showcase the progress and accomplishments of the students, teachers and educational programs throughout the state. Student nominees are judged based on the obstacles overcome as they pursued their education and the contributions to society they made since participating in an adult, career or technical program. The success stories of the winners are attached.

Approximately 160 nominations were submitted by Florida school districts for inclusion into the award bank of students who were deemed "program successes.” Of the 160 nominations, 27 regional winners were chosen from various program categories. The nine state winners were then chosen from among the 27 regional winners. The overall winner, Conrad L. Boger of Valencia Community College, received a check in the amount of $15,000 for his program. Each of the other winners received a certificate honoring them as a participant in the All American Success Stories showcase. Winners also received a trophy and an all-expense-paid trip to Tallahassee to attend the awards ceremony. A check in the amount of $10,000 was awarded to their respective programs on their behalf.

Region I

Dana Berry
Adult Education
Santa Rosa Adult School
Santa Rosa County

Dana Berry truly exemplifies the "All American Success Story" in adult education. Dana had quit school after her junior year. She and her military husband traveled the next few years and had four children, including a set of twins. In Milton, Florida, she found herself abandoned by her husband, and she was without transportation and financial support. Dana eventually remarried and enrolled at Santa Rosa Adult School (SRAS) and received her diploma in half the expected time.

Dana never dreamed of having the opportunity to go to college due to personal adversity and financial burdens. However, because of her perseverance and outstanding grades, SRAS offered her a two-year scholarship to Pensacola Junior College (PJC) where she completed her Associate's Degree. Although she thirsted for more, Dana did not expect to further her education. When PJC called to offer her an additional two-year scholarship to the University of West Florida (UWF), she anxiously accepted. Dana completed her Bachelor's Degree in English Education while helping support the family by waiting tables and cleaning houses.

Once graduated, she sought employment with SRAS. Unfortunately, there were no openings, but that did not discourage Dana. Instead, she volunteered to teach at SRAS--one of her most valued experiences. That year she was awarded Volunteer of the Year and continued to substitute teach and seek full-time employment at SRAS. Finally, Dana's former SRAS teacher left her position, which opened the door for Dana to teach...MATH! Admittedly, Dana was forced to teach herself many math skills along the way. Her efforts paid off when she moved into a position teaching English at SRAS six years ago where she continues to develop more innovative courses, such as Journalism and Web Design. Additionally, Dana has for several years sponsored the SGA, and she created a school newspaper, a yearbook and the school web site. The students admire, respect, and thoroughly enjoy "Mrs. Berry" and seek to enroll in her classes.

In her spare time, Dana sits on the Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life for Santa Rosa County and serves as co-chair for the SRAS Relay for Life team. She is also Associate Pastor at Victory Life Church. Dana is an inspiration to students, friends, co-workers, and administration with her passion for teaching, her kindness, and her steadfast enthusiasm for life. Dana says she may be back in that same classroom, but this time she is giving back the same help and support she herself received from SRAS all those years ago.

Region II

Lou Ann Austin
Patient Care Technician/Technical Education
Bradford-Union Vo-Tech
Bradford County

Lou Ann Austin is an example of an American success story. She entered the Bradford-Union Area Vocational-Technical Center in 1997. She was determined to get off public assistance and get her life together. She faced some challenges in the process of going through a divorce and trying to provide a living for three little girls.

She began by enrolling in adult education to bring up her academic scores for entrance into the Health class at the Vocational Center. She managed to bring her scores up in just three months and enrolled in the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes. She was working as a cashier at Food Lion and used an income tax refund to pay her fees. She continues to better herself through education, enrolling in Phlebotomy and Electrocardiogram (EKG) classes. She managed to pay for all of these classes on her own.

Lou Ann has been employed at "Stella's Place" for two years. It is a group home where she assists with training disabled ladies to successfully function on their own. The residents she serves are permanent residents funded by the Bradford Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC).

Lou Ann has increased her hourly wage from $6.00 to $9.02. She continues to support her children without any public assistance or spousal support.

Lou Ann has been a volunteer in the school system and is constantly involved in community activities with her clients. She is a perfect example of determination, enthusiasm, and great devotion. She was able to make the best of where she was and strove to get where she wanted.

Region III

Conrad L. Boger
Radiography/Technical Education
Valencia Community College
Orange County

At age 30, after having been in the workforce with only a high school education working for slightly above the minimum wage, Conrad began his trek toward a better life. He applied and was accepted to Valencia Community College Radiography program, a decision inspired by a need to provide a better life for his family. He moved his wife and three-year-old child from their home 35 miles away to within one mile of Orlando Regional Medical Center where Valencia Community College (VCC) provided the classes. By moving near the school, he was able to lower monthly expenses. He sold his car to reduce car maintenance, fuel, and insurance expenses and purchased a bicycle to travel to and from school. To continue to provide support to his family as he attended classes, he obtained employment as a clerical support person in the Radiology Department of Orlando Regional Medical Center.

The Radiography Program required attendance five days per week and nearly eight hours per day, leaving only nights and weekends for his studying and employment. Throughout his two-year pursuit of an A.S. degree, he worked 12 hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays and four hours per evening, two to three evenings per week.

After two very successful years attending VCC, Conrad graduated with the A.S. degree in Radiology and was presented the Scholastic Achievement Award for achieving the highest grade point average in his graduating radiography class. After having been offered several opportunities for employment, Conrad chose to begin his career with Orlando Regional Healthcare. In the next few years, Conrad was promoted to Lead Portable Technologist, became a Computed Tomography (CT) Technologist and later was the first technologist cross-trained into the field of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at the hospital. Conrad applied for a promotion and was selected for a supervisor level position at Orlando Regional St. Cloud Hospital, then moved on to Manager of the radiology department where he is still employed.

His journey from radiology support staff to Radiology Department Manager took Conrad little more than six years after graduation. He has now been with Orlando Regional Healthcare for more than 12 years. Conrad is a member of the Valencia Community College Advisory Board for Radiography and Sonography, participates in OASIS Community Education Programs, and plays an active role with Junior Achievement for the local schools. He is an advocate for the continuation of all of the adult education programs by allowing students to do their clinical training in the department that he manages. This is an All-American Success Story. No one can deny that adult education is at the core of this good fortune and wonderful career of Conrad L. Boger.

Theresa Alcantar
Electricity Apprenticeship/JATC/Technical Education
Mid Florida Tech
Orange County

Theresa Alcantar was born in Michoacan, Mexico in 1968. Her parents immigrated to the United States with their 12 children when Theresa was 14 years old. She had already dropped out of school in the eighth grade for financial reasons.

Unable to speak English, she worked as a farm laborer earning just enough to pay rent on a small room and buy food. By the age of 17, Theresa found work in the fast food industry finally making minimum wage. Soon after that she started taking English classes and she passed the GED exam and earned her high school diploma. Afterwards, Theresa found work as a hotel housekeeper and got married.

By the age of 21, Theresa was a divorced single parent struggling to survive. She was forced to work 70 to 80 hours a week at several jobs to support her baby. Then she learned about the Central Florida Joint Apprenticeship Training Council through Mid-Florida Tech. By 1996, Theresa started making $6.20 per hour, more than she had ever made in her life.

After a five-year apprenticeship, Theresa and her 12-year-old daughter bought a home and no longer have to worry about their next meal. Theresa Alcantar is currently a foreman for Buena Vista Construction Company at Walt Disney World.

Registoire "Reggie" Gedeus
Law Enforcement Academy/Adult Education
Indian River Community College
St. Lucie County

Through his dedicated public service as the first Haitian police officer in the Fort Pierce Police Department, Reggie Gedeus, 41 is making a major contribution to the community. Gedeus came to the United States in 1988 seeking a better life for himself and his family. Getting an education was a priority. He immediately improved his English skills through the Indian River Community College English as a Second Language program and soon began preparing for his GED high school diploma. Well known among the members of the Fort Pierce Haitian community, Gedeus assisted other ESL students and continues to encourage Haitians to participate in adult education at the community college.

"IRCC has been a great resource to me and the other members of the Haitian community. The College's services are very convenient for us." Gedeus said. "There is no doubt that the education I received at IRCC changed my life."

In 1992, he passed the GED exam earning his high school diploma and was employed by the St. Lucie County School District as a teacher's aide. Gedeus worked with Haitian children, helping Creole-speaking parents communicate with teachers and become familiar with the schools. He was also proud to become a U.S. citizen.

In 1998, the married father of two entered the IRCC Basic Law Enforcement Recruit Academy. Upon graduation, he was hired by the Fort Pierce Police Department with special responsibility for communicating with Creole speaking residents.

But Gedeus isn't finished with his education yet! While working full-time as a duty officer, he completed his Associate in Arts Degree at IRCC in 2002 and will start the bachelor's degree program in Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University this spring.

Region IV

Jonah Perkins
Criminal Justice Academy/Technical Education
Pinellas Park High School
Pinellas County

Jonah is a graduate of the Criminal Justice Career Academy at Pinellas Park High School in Pinellas Park, Florida, successfully completing three years of Criminal Justice Assisting and graduating high school with honors. Jonah served as the vice president of the Florida Law Honor Society, was an active member in VICA and served on the school district's multi-cultural advisory group, AWARE. Jonah selected the Criminal Justice Career Academy because of his interest in the law and because of the hands-on, applied academic philosophy of the academy.

At the end of this school year, Second Lieutenant Jonah A. Perkins will leave the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD., with his commission and his diploma. Jonah will begin active service with the United States Marine Corps where he hopes to become an attorney with the Marine Judge Advocate General (JAG) Office.

Jonah best summarized the challenges in his life in an essay he did his senior year of high school. The following is excerpted from that essay:

"I have spent my life in poverty. I have seen a man shot dead in the street. One of my closest friends is in prison for murder. I have been threatened by my own cousin with a gun. I can remember at an early age having to get down on the kitchen floor while eating dinner with my mother and siblings to avoid getting shot by neighborhood gunfire. My mother was both mother and father as my father is deceased. I know what it is like to live in fear for my life and the lives of my family."

Further demonstrating his ability to overcome adversity and in evidence of his personal initiative and drive, Jonah personally sought out Congressman Bill Young to gain his support in a recommendation for an appointment to the Naval Academy.

Jonah has devoted many volunteer hours to the local Teen Court Program; he held a position in the local chapter of the National Urban League and has served as a student intern with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Melanie Peter
Practical Nursing/Technical Education
Traviss Technical Center
Polk County

Melanie Peter had her first encounter with Traviss Technical Center in 1992. At the time, Melanie, a 20-year-old, single mother of a toddler, lived and shared expenses with her mother. In her own words, Melanie states "This was the most difficult time of my life. I wanted desperately to attend school but had no income and no car." Thanks to a guidance counselor who helped her obtain financial aid, Melanie was able to enroll in the LPN Program at Traviss. There were still obstacles to overcome (such as finding a way to get her son to pre-school while car-pooling to school herself), but Melanie was able to overcome these obstacles and achieve her dream of becoming an LPN. She graduated from Traviss Technical Center in July 1983.

After graduation, Melanie began working at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. In August 1986, Melanie decided to return to school and enroll at Polk Community College to pursue her R.N. Degree in 1989. In 1995, Melanie returned to Traviss Technical Center but this time, in a different role. Melanie was hired as a Licensed Practical Nurse instructor in the Health Science Department. For the last seven years, Melanie has utilized her position to mentor others by sharing her own "success story" with incoming and often times "underserved students."

Melanie has overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve her dreams. However, this success story is far from over. Serving as an LPN instructor at Traviss, Melanie again returned to college. In 1998, Melanie graduated with honors with a Master's Degree in Health Care Administration. Melanie could have chosen to further her career by pursuing other employment. But the heart of Melanie Peter and her love and appreciation for Traviss Technical Center has kept her close to her roots. In July 2002, after 20 years in the medical profession, Melanie Peter came "full circle." Melanie Peter, the former student, was appointed the new Director of the Health Science Department at Traviss Technical Center.

In addition to demonstrating the ability to overcome adversity, Melanie's contribution to her community in the areas of health and education are significant. She has demonstrated her compassion for others by organizing a community holiday program for hospitalized pediatric patients. Melanie is also a peer teacher and uses her new position to serve as an advocate and guest speaker in support of Vocational Education. Melanie is passionate about expanding opportunities for the Health Science Program at Traviss Technical Center and states, "It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to give back to a system that made me what I am."

Tonja Edwards
Cosmetology/Technical Education
Manatee Technical Institute
Manatee County

Tonja Edwards is a survivor and a winner. Not only is she a 2002 graduate of the Cosmetology program, she is also the 2002 National Silver Medalist in CPR/First Aid (Skills USA-VICA).

This 42-year-old mother of three children did not achieve this success overnight. The father of her children left when her youngest was only two months old. One of her children has Crohn's disease. She had to go on welfare until she could get a job as a childcare worker.

Tonja worked in childcare for 20 years, getting her Child Development Associate (CDA) credential along the way. Towards the end of those 20 years, her oldest graduated from high school and she started to have difficulty dealing with the children in her care. She had to go back on welfare through Jobs ETC. She began volunteering in the office, making copies and filing. She knew she needed to embark on a new career.

With the help of the Displaced Homemakers Program on the Manatee Technical Institute (MTI) Campus, she enrolled in Cosmetology. Upon finishing the program, she took the licensing exam and passed. While she is waiting for her license to arrive in the mail, she is volunteering at several salons four hours every other day. One of the salons will hire her as soon as her license arrives.

When Tonja Edwards got on the plane to fly to Kansas City and represent the state of Florida in the National Skills USA competition, it was the first time she had ever flown and the first time she had ever been out of Manatee County. She let out a shriek when the plane took off. And when she won second place in the nation, the MTI team let out a shriek-a shriek of joy for someone who was so humble, who had worked so hard and overcome so much.

Region V

Jose Garcia
Industrial Electronics/Technical Education
Hialeah Senior High School
Miami-Dade County

Jose Garcia graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at Hialeah Senior High School in 1980 in the Industrial Electronics Vocational program, under the leadership of Mr. Phil Goodman. Jose fell in love with the field of electronics and won a special scholarship in Industrial Electronics. The scholarship enabled Jose to embark on a journey into an exciting career in a high-wage technical field.

Jose was born in Cuba, where Jose's grandfather worked as the head of engineers for the Cuban National Power Company. Jose's father, an electrical engineer, decided to leave Cuba when Jose was only three years old. The family settled in Union City, New Jersey. Jose later relocated to Florida.

In spite of the odds against him, Jose attained the dream his father and mother had envisioned. Jose received an Associate of Arts degree in Electrical Engineering, and completed special training at Florida International University. The training enabled him to land a job with WSVN-CHANNEL 7, the local NBC affiliate. Seven years later, Jose became the News Operations Director for WKGM/WCPX-TV in Orlando, Florida.

Since entering the field of broadcasting, Jose has held a number of positions. After only four years, WFOR-CBS4 offered Jose the Director of Technical Operations position, which was in charge of the overall technical operation of the station. Two years later, he became Director of Broad Cast Operations and Engineering, which is the top technical position for CBS in the South Florida area. Jose Garcia is an Advisory Board member on the Television Production Program Advisory Committee for Miami-Dade County Public Schools' Division of Applied Technology. He also participates in many charitable and community organizations.

In Jose's opinion, the vocational electronics program at Hialeah Senior High gave him the jump-start he needed to succeed in American society. "It opened up many doors for me. Mr. Phil Goodman was the instructor, and he was terrific. A true mentor, Mr. Goodman led me down the road to success. Today, I enjoy an interesting and exciting career in Broadcast Television."