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Soldiers To Scholars

Soldiers to Scholars

The Washington Post (Monday, November 23rd)
Location in Publication: Page A23

By: William Raspberry

You don’t have to admonish Alzo J. Reddick to pull himself together. The University of Central Florida educator has made a second career of pulling himself together, weaving the disparate elements into a potentially transforming approach to education.

There’s Alzo, the burly footballer who boasts of playing (he doesn’t say how successfully) against Deacon Jones when both were high school jocks In Orlando. There’s Sarge Reddick, who decided 30-odd years ago that a military career wasn’t for him and who landed a job as high school teacher and coach within a month after leaving the service. There’s Doc Reddick, whose doctorate in education attests to his determination to be a leader In his profession. There’s state Rep. Reddick, a member of the Florida legislature since 1982. And, of course, there’s Alzo “The Dreamer” Reddick, who came up with the UCF program he calls “Soldiers to Scholars.”

Reddick says that his program is an adaptation of “Troops to Teachers,” an alternative certification idea that came out of the American Federation of Teachers a few years back. But what an adaptation. “You’re right,” he told me after reading my recent column on alternative certification for public school teachers. “Recruiting teachers for inner cities is especially difficult. We need highly motivated, positive role models, particularly in the African American community. The military does provide a ready source of these types of can-do individuals, but many of them leave the service ineligible for the Troops to Teachers program – even though many of them do have excellent leadership skills and a strong desire to teach.”

“Soldiers to Scholars” recruits these former service members, enrolls them in college and points them toward careers in teaching. “That just the beginning though,” Reddick told me. “When these soldiers enter our program, they agree to live in an inner-city apartment complex, provide after-school mentoring for at-risk children at a nearby elementary school, and act as positive role models in their community – all while taking classes as full-time students.

The results, he says, include the creation of a cadre of male role models for neighborhoods in which they are in notoriously short supply and the transformation of Orlando’s drug-ridden Franciscan Apartments into the safer, cleaner, drug-free Madison Point Apartments. “The idea came out of my work as educator and legislator,” he says. “It dawned on me that the people I would see in prisons when I made my rounds of the state correctional facilities as a member of the legislature were just grown-up versions of the kids I saw in special-ed classes as a teacher. It became something of a fixation with me to try to do something about it.” He talked Central Florida into establishing a special program for former service members interested in teaching, and he talked the Florida Housing Corp. into subsidizing the Madison Point rent for his recruits. “They get a three-fifths housing subsidy and free tuition, but no salary, while they are In school. We require them to live in the complex, to do volunteer service, keep their grades up and work toward on-time graduation,” he says.

“Most are black men, mostly single, but one of the beauties of the program is that we’ve also had a number of families in the program. I can’t tell you what a profound impact our scholars have on this one community (which includes what used to be five of Orlando’s lowest-achieving schools) – and what impact they could have in so many troubled areas. And schools are waiting for our graduates. I have a guy who’s graduating next month and has three job offers even before he completes certification.”

Soldiers to Scholars, launched in 1995, boasts just 10 graduates so far, six or seven teaching in Orange County schools. But 27 enrollees now are living at Madison Pointe. Says Reddick: “We have taken two negatives – downsized military personnel and the urban education crisis – and created a positive: excellent teachers and role models for the children who need them most.”

That’s one way of looking at It. I prefer to think that this remarkable man took inventory of the elements that make up his experience, his assets and his most basic concerns – and pulled himself together.

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