Step One Automotive Group was recognized at the July 25, 2022, School Board meeting for receiving the Commissioners Business Recognition Award. Nominated by Pryor Middle School, Step One Automotive Group is a diverse automotive group that finds the importance of connecting their business to the needs of the community specifically through a local partnership with W.C. Pryor Middle School in Fort Walton Beach. Over the last few years, Step One has become a vital component in the success of students at the school through various contributions and services that have directly impacted students, faculty, and the school community at large.
Step One became involved with the children at Pryor Middle School when they came together to raise money for students who needed eye care. In partnership with Shalimar Eye Care, Step One provided 18 sixth graders with eye exams and a pair of glasses completely free of charge in 2021. In 2022, 12 more students were provided with eye exams and glasses. These students will now be able to focus on learning and experiencing middle school all while being able to see with corrective vision. This is especially important for the students at Pryor as over 70% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. And because of this, families did not have the means to cover an eye exam and glasses. Step One was able to fill this gap and provide students with the eyewear they needed to succeed in the classroom.
Every Christmas, Step One partners with Pryor Middle School to support their Christmas Wish Program, helping purchase bicycles for the children at the school. Pryor Middle School is a neighborhood school where more than 80% of the student body walks to and from school. The students come from working-class families where the family members often leave before the student does. It is critical for the school to look for ways to provide secure and constant transportation for the students. With the aid of Step One, students now have a bike that they can use to travel back and forth from their homes to school. This is increasing attendance and reducing tardiness because of the vital transportation one bike can provide for a student.
Pryor Middle School has a large English Language Learner (ELL) population, representing 30% of the student body. Step One helps this student population by providing classroom resources to enhance ELL education. This year, Step One helped to purchase headsets for students that help to immediately translate Spanish to English and English to Spanish. These headsets are helping students as they learn to grow academically, as well as for parents during the school’s ELL nights. This support is helping students keep up in the classroom while also building a sense of community with their families.
The ELL population is assimilating to a new culture and education system and sometimes finds it difficult to connect. Step One CEO, Fernando Arellano, came to Pryor to speak to the ELL students about the importance of hard work and how anyone can achieve their dreams if they stay focused and work hard. Students were able to see and interact with a fellow ELL who worked hard and is now a successful businessman. This inspired so many of the ELL students to keep working hard in school. This continued when Step One brought in FIA Formula 3 Driver JM Correa to visit students at Pryor. JM Correa spoke in Spanish about his successes and failures and left the students inspired about their own aspirations. This passion in the ELL students was apparent throughout the school for weeks. Step One brings in Spanish speakers so that students can continually build a positive association with the school environment.
Step One Automotive Group continues to take a large role in supporting Pryor Middle School throughout the year. Step One kicked off the 2021-2022 school year for Pryor Middle School teachers with a pancake breakfast and small gift bags that included a gift card for Walmart which helped to cover the cost of supplies for their classroom. The start of the school year is a busy, exciting time for teachers and staff, who begin classroom setup, lesson planning, and everything in between, weeks before children step through the door, so this little contribution helped to build the school culture. Throughout the year, Step One brings in a food truck, free of charge for the teachers, to enjoy a nice lunch. This year, Step One also provided mini-grants for teachers to help provide individual classrooms with supplies they may need. Teachers were able to purchase things like flexible seating, headphones, motivation posters, etc. to enhance their classroom instruction.
Step One continued to build the confidence of teachers by inviting them to hear the motivational speaker and retired Air Force Colonel Ed Hubbard speak about his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and how overcoming adversity can be an opportunity for personal growth and development. The message resonated with many educators still reeling from a year of COVID. As a parting gift for the day, Step One paid for a signed copy of Colonel Hubbard’s book for each staff member at Pryor Middle School.
Step One takes a full-circle approach to enhancing education in Okaloosa County. From helping the families, students, and teachers, everyone at the school is impacted by the generosity of the local business. The school culture amongst faculty and students is improving alongside the students’ academic success.