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Tampa's Pepin Academies helps students transition to success

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Students from the Pepin Transitional Program are training on the job at the Hillsborough Public Defender's office.  Some of their duties include digitizing documents and information for case files. Students from the Pepin Transitional Program are training on the job at the Hillsborough Public Defender's office. Some of their duties include digitizing documents and information for case files.
One of the many successful students from the Pepin Transitional Program, Jonathan Temaul, is now employed full time in Public Defender Julianne Holt's office. One of the many successful students from the Pepin Transitional Program, Jonathan Temaul, is now employed full time in Public Defender Julianne Holt's office.
Julianne Holt, Public Defender for the 13th Judicial Circuit, and co-worker Maggie Gambrell at work. Julianne Holt, Public Defender for the 13th Judicial Circuit, and co-worker Maggie Gambrell at work.
Students spend part of their day in a classroom and part of their day on the job training. Students spend part of their day in a classroom and part of their day on the job training.
Julianne Holt observing students in the Pepin Transitional Program's classroom. Julianne Holt observing students in the Pepin Transitional Program's classroom.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Ever heard of the Pepin Academies?  If not, you're probably not alone.  The tuition-free public charter school specializes in students with all kinds of learning disabilities, and one of its most aggressive programs successfully places those kids in some pretty high stress work environments. 

"They really are boots on the ground from the very beginning," explained Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt. 

Back in 2006 Pepin Academies founder Chrisha Scolaro approached Holt about creating a transitional program inside the Public Defenders Office.  Holt agreed to allow young adults with varying learning disabilities to input data and convert backlogged files to digital images.

"After the very first year we realized, hey this is working out really great.  You could actually see the progress that was being made, but more importantly you saw the growth. You saw the growth of the students," Holt said.

Scolaro says transitional programs like the one at the Public Defenders Office are invaluable for Pepin Academies students who admittedly have disabilities but certainly have plenty of capabilities too. 

"It doesn't matter if you have a student with a disability, you as a taxpayer will end up providing for these students to sit on their couch at home.  if we don't transition them into the work force and independent living," Scolaro said.

Among the transitional program's success stories are Maggie Gambrell who became a full time employee at the Public Defenders Office after finishing at Pepin. Jonathan Temaul also snagged a full time position nearly five years ago. 

He says he now helps other Pepin students any time he can. "I sometimes help them out. Sometimes I do. Just got to give them a little push. Just a tiny little push," Temaul said.

And really, Holt says, that's all that's happening in her office -- a push towards success. 

"I always want to end every single day at the end of the day knowing that I made a difference in someone's life, and if I don't open the door for people who need the door opened who will," she said.

Pepin Academies students rotate through a series of transitional programs throughout downtown Tampa at places like the county building, Tampa Police Department, TECO and People's Gas. 
     
The school's major fundraiser is set for May 16th, and officials plan to open a satellite school in Riverview this fall.

 

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