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District wins state award for increasing financial aid applications

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SARASOTA COUNTY, April 20, 2017 — The Sarasota County School District has won the top award among large school districts in Florida for the number of students who have completed the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  The award is based on results of the 2017 Florida FAFSA Challenge sponsored by the Florida College Access Network (Florida CAN), a campaign to increase the proportion of high school seniors completing the FAFSA.

The completion rate for Sarasota County seniors was 45.5 percent, a 9.1 percentage point increase over 2016. The increase in completed applications equates to an estimated additional $513,180 in federal Pell grants awarded to Sarasota County students.

The Sarasota County District was named the MVP for Large School Districts for having the highest FAFSA completion rate through March 31. Riverview High School was honored for having the Biggest Boost for Large Schools.

Six other high schools were recognized as All Stars for increasing their FAFSA completions by at least five percentage points. Those schools include Booker, Venice, Sarasota and North Port high schools and the Sarasota Military Academy.

Peni Riedinger, the program specialist in the district Pupil Support Services Department responsible for counselors, said the effort to help students complete the intimidating maze of FAFSA forms was led by volunteers who have been conducting evening and weekend workshops for parents and students since October. 

The coalition of agencies involved in the project is called the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership. The lead agencies in the partnership include CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Sarasota County Schools, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Unidos Now, and United Way Suncoast. Sarasota Chamber President and CEO Kevin Cooper said, “This is a truly great example of leadership through collaboration.”

The Talent4Tomorrow Partnership spent several months planning and executing FAFSA awareness and support activities, including FAFSA completion assistance during community- and school-based events. Community volunteers as well as financial aid officers from Ringling College of Art & Design, State College of Florida, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and Keiser University assisted families of high school seniors in completing the FAFSA form at North Port, Booker and Sarasota high schools, as well as at community-based FAFSA events and United Way Suncoast Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs.

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