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New STEP Student Zaria Cash and Host Family Each Embrace New Experiences

zariaJunior year is a daunting one for any Scarsdale student. Just when academic rigor and extracurricular commitments are peaking, the college application process -- campus visits, standardized testing -- begins in earnest.

So just imagine junior year for a student both new to the high school and over 1,000 miles removed from family and friends? What sort of 16-year old student would even think to challenge herself on so many levels at once?

Meet Zaria Cash, an exceptionally intrepid and determined student from Memphis, Tennessee, who joins Scarsdale High School's Class of 2018 as the latest in a long line of remarkable Scarsdale STEP students.

The Scarsdale Student Transfer Education Plan (STEP) is an independent community program that identifies promising students of color and enables them to attend Scarsdale High School for their junior and senior years. The program offers qualified students access to Scarsdale High School's strong college preparatory program and extensive extracurricular activities, as well as the cultural and recreational resources of the New York metropolitan area. By offering students exposure to a different and challenging environment, STEP prepares them to take positions of leadership and responsibility in a multi-cultural society

Zaria Cash comes to Scarsdale with a track record of embracing new experiences and seeking challenges. She was an honors student at KIPP Memphis Collegiate High and a member of the school's cheerleading squad. In her freshman year she competed in the greater Memphis Science Olympiad and won 4th place as the only 9th grader on teams of juniors and seniors. The summer after her sophomore year, the Eleanor Roosevelt Foundation selected her to participate in their Girls' Leadership Worldwide program in New York City, which Zaria considers a life-changing experience. She spent part of this past summer in Minnesota attending Carleton College's Liberal Arts Experience program.

When asked how she came to apply to the Scarsdale STEP program, Zaria replied, "Well, my college advisor, Mrs. Weber, recommended STEP to me. At first I didn't like the thought of being away from home; but, as I kept asking about the program, I realized that this was an amazing opportunity to better my education and succeed in life."

Scarsdale STEP could not provide such an opportunity to Zaria, or to the other STEP students before her, without also being able to offer a strong system of social and emotional support. Most crucial is finding a Scarsdale family willing to provide the student with a nurturing and supportive environment -- that is, a home away from home. Host parents not only supervise and take responsibility for students but also offer moral support, reassurance and advice in solving problems. STEP students typically become integral members of the host family and often maintain close ties with them well beyond their high school graduation.

STEP's 2016 graduate, DonTavius Holmes, also of Memphis, lived with Bettina and Michael Klein and their children. DonTavius now attends Oxford College at Emory University under full scholarship.

In stepping up to play this pivotal role in Zaria Cash's life, the Greenwald family has shown that they, too, welcome new experiences with a warm embrace. Diane and Marc Greenwald and their two sons, Jay and Eli, are hosting Scarsdale's newest STEP scholar for the next two years.

As Diane Greenwald explained, "Neither Marc nor I had ever been involved with STEP, but last spring, I saw the notice in the Inquirer that STEP had selected Zaria and was seeking a host family. Something about her just caught my attention. We talked to the STEP board members and learned how much support the board and community would provide. Then we talked to our sons, and really it was their unhesitating enthusiasm to share our home that clinched our commitment."

samwickThe success of each STEP student further depends on a consistently strong network of personal support and access to resources from the fifty-plus member STEP organization, as well as the broader Scarsdale community. Scarsdale High School also offers a structure of support in the form of a new student group run by Dean Nancy Thompson and Youth Outreach Worker, Lauren Pomerantz. In addition, the student-run STEP Club organizes fundraisers and social events.

Just a few weeks after her arrival in Scarsdale, on September 14th, STEP hosted a potluck dinner to welcome Zaria, along with its first board meeting of the 2016-17 year.

Zaria reported on her academic courses, and was especially enthusiastic about the prospect of conducting experiments in Psychology and developing public speaking skills in Acting class. Zaria has already joined the Junior Varsity cheerleading squad and is also interested in trying out for one of the school's a cappella groups.

Asked to reflect on her adjustment so far to life in Scarsdale, Zaria remained both focused on the positive, as well as candid. "I believe that everything is going well. Everyone is so nice and welcoming that I am kind of distracted from not being close to my family and friends. Although I do miss the little things sometimes...."

It will no doubt take time for this new STEP student to build new relationships and to feel she is part of the Scarsdale community, but already her open and straightforward demeanor and positive attitude have helped to ease her transition. As host parent Diane Greenwald puts it, "Zaria has made it easy for us to welcome her, as she approaches everything she does with a ready smile. She is a brave and positive young woman. In this very short time, Zaria has impressed us all with her enthusiasm, determination and maturity. It has only been a few weeks, but I anticipate we will learn much from her, and I hope she from us."

2016 marks STEP's 50th year and a community-wide celebration will take place to commemorate this milestone on Saturday, November 12th at the Scarsdale Woman's Club. It was former Scarsdale Social Studies teacher Eric Rothschild who first established the Student Transfer Education Program in Scarsdale in 1966 and the guest of honor for the anniversary celebration will be Rashid Silvera, another venerated Scarsdale High School Social Studies teacher who has also been a true friend of STEP. Those interested in learning more about STEP, attending the 50th celebration, donating funds or services, or becoming a host family, should contact STEP at info@scarsdalestep.org, or visit its website, www.scarsdalestep.org.

Author Mary Beth Evans is a member of the STEP Board.

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