Meet the 2016 Central Florida American Graduate Champions

American Graduate Day is a live, four-hour multiplatform broadcast that leverages the power and reach of public media to focus on those organizations and individual Champions keeping kids on the path to graduation. Check out the 2016 American Graduate Day below!

Dr. Megan Nickels

Dr. Megan Nickels

See how one UCF teacher is helping critically ill kids through robotics.

Dr. Amy Mainzer

Dr. Amy Mainzer

Meet the astronomer and host of the PBS Kids show “Ready Jet Go!”

American Graduate: Mentor Event


Central Florida Champions - Robot Kits for Sick Children

Terminally ill children make up a population of students who don't often receive the educational opportunities they deserve.  Dr. Megan Nickels is a a mentor and American Graduate Champion who started a group at UCF called Pediatric Interest Group in Education.  The group's members focus on the different ways that they, as educators, can address the needs of terminally ill students.  To fill this need, Dr. Nickels has developed a robot kit that provides an interactive way for children to learn mathematics outside of the classroom.

Preparing today’s students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) is more important now than ever before. With the shift to a technology-driven society, students and children will need to learn and apply new skills to succeed in school, college, and as they enter the workforce.


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Robot Kits for Sick Children

Dr. Nickels has earned a doctoral degree in mathematics education and is using robotics to help kids with cancer, sickle-cell disease and HIV-AIDS. She wants to both develop their intellect under the most challenging of circumstances — including, often, in the hospital between surgery and chemotherapy — and to give them back a sense of control over their destinies.

ACE Mentor Program of America

The ACE Mentor Program is driven by the committed and enthusiastic participation of volunteer mentors who are practicing professionals in their respective field. 

STEM Chicks, Inc

The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness and women and minorities are vastly underrepresented among STEM professionals.  Founded in 2012, STEMchicks, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that engages girls by providing a STEM-based education designed specifically for them — empowering them to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Early Education

Central Florida Champions -  Kate and Justin Rose

PGA golfer and Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and his wife Kate support the Central Florida chapter of "Blessings in a Backpack," which provides food for children facing food insecurity in our community.

Children that have influential and supportive adults in their lives have a better chance of succeeding and growing into productive, confident adults. A caring adult can be anyone that shows support in one way or another to children and youth. Examples are: a parent, teacher, coach, religious leader, grandparent, child care provider, mentor or volunteer. 

Additional Resources and Programs:

Kate & Justin Rose Foundation

Feeding hungry tummies and curious minds through nutrition, education, and experiences.

America's Promise Alliance

We frame our work around Five Promises that we believe must be made and kept to every young American – caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, an effective education, and opportunities to serve.

More and Better Learning

Central Florida Champions - Hope CommUnity Center

Go inside Apopka's Hope CommUnity Center and see how they are changing the community with parenting, immigration, and spiritual guidance.

Not every child or student fits into mainstream educational programs and schools. Sometimes it is difficult to succeed if you have outside factors standing in the way. There are a variety of alternative learning programs and options designed to meet the needs of diverse students and youth.


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Hope CommUnity Center

Hope CommUnity Center is a service learning community dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through Education, Advocacy and Spiritual Growth.  We exist to serve and cultivate self-determined communities through personal, social and communal transformation.



Special Needs

Central Florida Champions - Joyful Music Therapy

Music therapy is changing the lives of special-needs children and young adults in Central Florida.  See how this innovative therapy motivates those with disabilities to actively engage in music experiences while working on functional goals like attention, communication, motor skills, social interaction, and emotional skills.

Children with special needs deserve quality time and attention, respect and supportive services to meet their unique needs. Florida has a variety of programs and opportunities to help each child be the best he or she can be.

Additional Resources and Programs:

Joyful Music Therapy

Musical forms and songs resemble verbal communication and provide structure and motivation for communicating with one another.  Music also aids in reducing negative self-stimulatory responses and encourages socially acceptable participation and since music is processed in multiple areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal cortex, and superior temporal lobes, it stimulates cognitive function, memory, and provides organization for the sensory system.  Find out more!

An e-mail pen pal program for people with an intellectual disability of all ages and peer volunteers from across the United States and around the globe. e-Buddies is a fun and safe way to make a new friend in a secure online setting, and is available to anyone who has an e-mail address. e-Buddies can also be a great teaching tool for a special education classroom that can help teach social skills, as well as literacy and computer skills.

Therapeutic horseback riding, or hippotherapy, is an alternative form of physical therapy to help improve motor skills and neurological functions. See how children in Central Florida, with a range of disabilities, are benefiting from their treatment sessions with horses.


Autism affects 1 in 68 children in America….and is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S.  Research has shown that the only way to make a real difference to children on the autism spectrum is if every person in the school community understands their unique needs.  Check out this new technology that is focused on helping these students.


Central Florida Champions - Amazing Explorers Preschool Program

The Amazing Explorers Academy is a groundbreaking day care and early childhood education center in Oviedo that is setting the standard for pre-school learning using STEAM curriculum.

Starting children on a solid foundation for learning has tremendous benefits. Children participating in quality early education programs have a broader vocabulary, do better in math and reading, and have more academic success throughout their schooling. Without quality early learning opportunities and programs, children start school behind their classmates and continually struggle to catch up. Children from families that lack financial resources or live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to drop out of school, get involved in crime or substance abuse. These statistics clearly show how important it is to get a solid education, from cradle to career.

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Amazing Explorers Academy

A nurturing educational environment where little minds open up to develop lifelong learning skills designed to inspire, connect and engage the great minds of the 21 st century.



Dropout Prevention and Re-engagement

Central Florida Champions - Second Harvest Food Bank

Go inside the kitchens of Second Harvest Food Bank to learn about the job-skills training program that is changing lives.

Local and national organizations are working diligently to reduce the dropout rate, increase the graduation rate, and expand learning opportunities for youth. Learn about a variety of programs and resources that are enhancing educational outcomes and opportunities for children and families in Florida.

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Second Harvest Food Bank

Last year, Second Harvest distributed nearly 64 million pounds of groceries to food pantries, soup kitchen, day care centers and more across the area.  But they are doing much more than giving food, they’re giving people hope with new career options.

PACE Center for Girls

The holistic, strength-based, and asset building PACE program model addresses the needs of girls and has garnered recognition nationally as one of the most effective programs in the country for keeping girls from entering the juvenile justice system.

Career Readiness and College Completion

Central Florida Champions - Young Entrepreneurs

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) is a year-long program that teaches middle and high school students how to start and run their own REAL businesses.  YEA! guides students through the process of starting and running a legitimate business or social movement over the course of a full academic year.

Florida’s new educational standards help students build the skills and knowledge they will need to be prepared for college-level coursework and the demands of the 21st century workplace. These standards help provide a solid foundation for students to succeed in the future.


Additional Resources and Programs:

Young Entrepreneurs Academy

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a life-changing program that positively impacts the entire community. From exciting local business guest lecturers to dynamic field trips to local companies, students learn how to develop and run a real enterprise in a fun, projects-based approach.

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