post-secondary education

The ABCs for a Stronger Community: Interviewing Robert Howe of Team Success A School of Excellence

by Sandy Chase

When you think of Team Success, remember your ABCs:  Alliances Bolster Communities.  In this case, the partnership between UnidosNow and the charter school is a lesson worth learning.

Collaboration is a keystone of Team Success, an exceptional school in the Manatee County School District.  Having earned a reputation as the highest-performing Title I school in the county, its students continue to lead with impressive math, civics, and science scores based on the Florida State Assessment.

CEO Armando Viota says, “We are a team, where everyone plays a fundamental part in the education of our students.  Bus operators, maintenance, support staff, cafeteria, faculty, parents and families, and administration work together to ensure our students’ success!”

So it’s no wonder that the partnership with UnidosNow—sponsoring its high-school club (organized in October 2020), parent focus groups, and other endeavors—continues to bolster the community.

What’s even more impressive is that Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik Scholar Genesis Getsemani Martinez and proud student of the Class of 2021 took the initiative to help establish this partnership—ultimately becoming the club leader.   

Having heard about the school through a family friend, Genesis began as a 4th grader, nine years ago.  

She has only praise for the school, comprising kindergarten through 12th grade—whose students are low-income, first-generation Latinos seeking post-graduate education.  

“I wanted to attend Team Success because they actually care about our education. They really push us to our limit and motivate us to keeping going.  They have been amazing.” 

She enjoys Team Success “because our classes are small, and teachers focus on individual students so everyone gets the attention they need.  Our relationship with our teachers makes it easy to ask for help and be myself.”

Planning to attend State College of Florida and pursue a career in social work, Genesis approached her College Counselor Robert Howe to explore possibilities of having an UnidosNow Club.

“One day I was explaining to Mr. Howe about UnidosNow, FLA, and our high-school clubs.  Becoming interested, he reached out to the organization.”  

UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera says, “Last year, Team Success contacted us, wanting to establish a club at the school.  We followed up with a presentation that generated great interest and engagement.  Since that time, we continue to build a strong relationship that helps promote our mission of elevating, educating, and integrating.”

Beaming, Genesis says, “I’m proud that our club allows us to help other college-bound students and those who will choose a career upon graduation. We now have 15 members.”

Like other UnidosNow high-school clubs, the one at Team Success has taught her about the college application process and the many post-secondary options available.

“Mr. Howe, our advisor, ensures that the club provides hands-on experiences, including completing college applications, writing essays, and applying for financial aid and scholarships.”   

Genesis says, “The greatest thing about the club is becoming a better version of ourselves—myself.  We also gain confidence.”

Genesis has also had to deal with challenges, saying, “I must communicate with members, understanding their needs.  When we first began, we had lots of ideas, but we were disorganized.”  

Through trial and error, Genesis has learned that she needed to set due dates and speak with her officers, striving to become a role model.

“At first, I was uncomfortable pointing out our mistakes, but I quickly realized that I had to tell them what needed to be done.  Working together, we were able to roll with the club.”

Rising Team Success senior and FLA scholar Dianna Lezama, who’s considering Harvard as her postsecondary choice, attests to the club’s success:

“I look forward to attending the UnidosNow club because it opens up new opportunities for me, and I get to meet incredible and amazing people.” 

That partnership between Team Success and UnidosNow exemplifies that practicing the ABCs helps encourage success for life.  

Why was Team Success established?

Team Success was established because our founder and visionary, Fred Spence, saw a need in the community to serve the underprivileged students and families in the Manatee County School District. 

The charter school was founded in 1997, operating under the umbrella of the Police Athletic League (PAL).  In 2013, the name became Team Success – A School of Excellence.  

Describe your collaboration with UnidosNow? 

After being introduced to UnidosNow by Genesis, when she was a junior, Team Success started its own UnidosNow Club—one of the biggest in Manatee County—pre-pandemic. 

We had our meetings—sometimes during school breaks and in the summer—here on campus because transportation for some of our families is difficult.  They have been at our parental-involvement meetings, focus groups, and other workshops—all resulting in a thriving community. 

How has your collaboration helped strengthen your high-school students’ future?

The UnidosNow club has served the students by providing them with more resources than they would ordinarily receive.  Our club also provides increased opportunities for our high-school graduating class.

Many of our students are coming from a background where their parents haven’t received much education.  Our club and UnidosNow better inform our population and their parents of the massive amount of resources and assistance they can receive.  

How has your School of Excellence helped bolster the Hispanic community—particularly your high-school seniors?  What goals do you have for that continued success?

We have helped to bolster the Hispanic community by promoting the idea that our students can achieve great things if they put their minds to it.  I’m constantly amazed at these kids and how hard they work even in light of their family’s challenging circumstances. 

In the future, we plan to open more facilities and add resources for our students.  One of the ways we are realizing our goals is by opening a second campus near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport for our growing population.  In this way, we can help students explore possibilities in the aviation industry—opening the door to more avenues of success.

What is most fulfilling about working at Team Success?

As the college and career counselor, the most fulfilling aspect about working here is that I am able to help students reach their future career dreams.  I’m proud that our Class of 2021—the first graduating class—will embark on the journey to continued success.    

Most of our seniors came to us as early as 2009, when we had only grades K-8.  In 2017 we started our high school.

Now, they are about to receive their high-school diplomas.  The majority of our seniors have signed up for post-secondary education, preparing to pursue careers in social work, auto repair, law, and engineering.  There are no limits!

New UnidosNow High School Clubs

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High School Club at the Sarasota Military Academy.

After last year’s successful pilot program offering of on-site college prep information and one- on- one support to low income, first generation students at Palmetto High School and Sarasota High School, UnidosNow is thrilled that other high schools have invited our program in as official clubs this year!

The new UnidosNow Clubs target freshmen and sophomores and meet weekly or biweekly, depending on the school, to engage students interested in pursuing a post-secondary education with tools and information to help them get on their desired pathway. Clubs have been launched at the following schools and meeting details are available here:

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High School Club at Manatee High School.