Educator Honored for Volunteer Work Helping High School Students

August 31, 2017

Fern Aefsky portraitDr. Fern Aefsky, head of the Education Department in the School of Education and Social Services, was recently recognized by U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida for her extensive volunteer work with a program that helps teens stay in public high schools.

Dr. Aefsky is among about 60 people who received a special certificate of recognition and a “Coin of Excellence – Outstanding Service” with the seal of the U.S. Congress. These honors may be given at the discretion of an individual congressional representative. Rep. Bilirakis represents the 12th Congressional District, which includes Florida’s Pasco County, where University Campus is located.

Administrators who run the county’s Take Stock in Children® program at the nonprofit Pasco Education Foundation nominated Dr. Aefsky for the award. Take Stock in Children® operates in a number of Florida counties. The mission of the program is to give teens from economically disadvantaged homes long-term support to encourage them to maintain good attendance in high school, persist in their studies, and then become eligible for scholarships for college raised through donations. (Some students have chosen to attend Saint Leo.) There are also activities for the students as they progress.

That’s not all, though. Part of the program involves having a volunteer mentor a child during 15 scheduled sessions a year at the student’s school. The mentor’s role is to encourage the student, to answer questions, and serve as a reliable role model of someone who has graduated from high school, gone on to college (and possibly further studies), and gained a position of trust and respect.

Dr. Aefsky is a mentor herself, and considers Take Stock “a great program, and a great way of giving back.” And it is a natural fit for the School of Education and Social Services, whose education faculty and students (future teachers and administrators) have so many connections with public schools already. Several colleagues from Saint Leo’s education faculty serve as mentors, including Dr. Keya Mukherjee, Dr. Jodi Lamb, Dr. Renee Sedlack, and Ocala Education Center Instructor Tammy Quick (who works with Take Stock in Children® of Marion County).

Yet sometimes the volunteer ranks of Take Stock in Children® mentors are too thin, and students go without this personal attention, at least for a time. “I can’t stand it when a student doesn’t have a mentor,” Dr. Aefsky said. So she has personally helped recruit other mentors.

That dedication prompted Rosanne Heyser, executive director of Take Stock in Children® – Pasco to nominate Dr. Aefsky for recognition from the area’s congressman. “Fern is such an incredible asset,” Heyser said.

“Fern also presented the idea of Take Stock in Children® at our Education and Social Services school meeting in August where she explained the program to faculty in other departments and encouraged them to get involved,” added Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of the School of Education and Social Services. “Fern is a good example of how we practice what we preach. She is very involved in partnering with our schools, their teachers, and the students.”    

Dr. Aefsky did not know about the nomination and did not know exactly what to expect when she and other winners were invited to a ceremony, and was honored by the award.

She intends to continue as a mentor, she said. “I’ll do this forever. It’s always nice to be connected with the kids and help them get to where they need to go.”Photo of Coin