President Trump praised Jacksonville’s Denisha Merriweather as “a remarkable woman” during his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
“Later this year, she will get her master’s degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha,” the president said.
Merriweather was a failing student who made a movie-worthy turnaround.
Now in a master’s program at the University of Central Florida, she credits her success to a tax-credit scholarship that offers tax credits to businesses providing private-school scholarships to low-income students.
It allowed her to get out of a low-performing school and go to Esprit de Corps Center for Learning in Jacksonville.
Good News: Student went from failing to scholarship winner
As a foster child, growing up in a high crime neighborhood, she got into fights, and life was a challenge. By the time she was in third grade, she had been held back twice.
In 2004, she received Florida’s Step Up for Students scholarship awarded to low-income students who meet certain guidelines to attend private schools. At Esprit De Corps Center for Learning, she received one-on-one help, and her grades went from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s.
Merriweather, while a senior at the University of West Florida majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences, received another scholarship. The Police Athletic League of Jacksonville, Inc. (JaxPAL) awarded her a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for $5,000 to study abroad. She competed against thousands of others for the scholarship.
Merriweather joined PAL’s after-school program in the sixth grade, saying that its staff and police officers taught her strong values, leadership skills, character and the importance of volunteerism.
“Coming to PAL was the first time that I felt like someone truly cared about me,” she said in 2014.