Rylee's Story


Rylee Johnson

(Published March 2013)

Rylee Johnson never struggled in school. In fact, she was enrolled in a prestigious IB magnet program in elementary school and did very well. Her mother Celeste knew that Rylee was bright. She aced all of her tests and even skipped a grade in her previous school.

“She excelled academically and had great teachers. It was a wonderful school,” her mother Celeste said. “But something was still missing.”

Celeste thought that she could be more challenged in school and began to look around for other options. They passed by Academy Prep Center of Tampa every day but never considered it an option, knowing that private school tuition would likely be out of budget.

“One day we saw a sign for an open house at Academy Prep and decided to go. That’s where we found out about Step Up For Students,” Celeste said. “Academy Prep’s slogan was ‘It’s More Than a School,’ and Rylee and I joked that we didn’t really know what that meant. But we soon found out.”

At Academy Prep Center of Tampa, a private middle school for grades 5 through 8, students attend school six days a week, 11 hours a day, 11 months of the year. Most of the classes are single-gender.

The school’s philosophy isn’t simply academic rigor for rigor’s sake. The students have opportunities to get involved in enrichment programs, like karate, dance or gardening, as a part of their school day. The sixth day of school, Saturday, is reserved for educational activities, such as field trips, where students can expand their learning beyond the classroom.

“In the seventh grade, Rylee’s class focused on the arts, and she had the chance to visit some great museums in Tampa,” Celeste said. “I felt like I was a student benefitting as well, because I volunteered to chaperone for all of her field trips. I thought I already knew a good deal about the arts, but on these field trips, I learned a lot as well. We both really loved it.”

But Rylee’s experience wasn’t all smooth sailing. At first, she struggled to keep up with the rigorous academic pace, and she was surprised when she did not make the honor roll on her first report card. “She had to learn to fight for her grades. It took her about two years to really get it down, but I think it was a great lesson for her to learn, and it’s made her a better person and stronger student,” Celeste said.

Rylee became such a strong student that she was awarded a private scholarship which, with the continued help of a Step Up scholarship, enables her to attend the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa where she is now a freshman. Rylee has transitioned well to the Academy of Holy Names, her mother said, thanks in part to Academy Prep.

Rylee is now on the cheerleading squad and the debate team and is keeping her grades up. But she won’t soon forget the support she received and what she learned at her middle school.

“We still receive phone calls from Academy Prep,” Celeste said. “They call to check up on Rylee to make sure she’s doing well and enjoying school. I know they will keep in touch and help her through college and beyond. I am so thankful for Step Up For Students’ investment that made this a possibility.”

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