Elevate Orlando works to mentor students in ‘character education’

Jonas Cayo is a product of the Pine Hills community now giving back to community where he grew up.

He was raised by parents who didn’t have a high school education, but what they lacked in formal education, they made up for in a determination to instill the importance of character, sacrifice and hard work into their children.


“My message for people that come from Pine Hills is to, of course, do well for yourself, but don’t forget Pine Hills,” Cayo said.

Cayo works as the CEO of Elevate Orlando, which serves as teacher-mentor program to help students in middle and high school push through tough times, while preparing them for college and a career.

They specialize in what they call, “character education.”

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“Things like respect, responsibility, time management, all those soft skills that we want our leaders to have,” Cayo said. “What’s great about our program is the same character qualities that we teach our students once a week, the high school and middle school students go to elementary schools, and they teach the same character qualities to the third and fourth grade students as well.”

Everyday after school, students from Jones, Evans and Oak Ridge high schools considered “in the middle” between at-risk and high achieving, are immersed in leadership classes, with visits from guest speakers and field trips allowing them to explore career fields and hear from executives.

“Not only to expose our students to those careers, but also to expose those companies and corporations to the talent that’s right here in Orlando,” Cayo said.

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Jonas knows the alternative, because he grew up in a neighborhood where the odds were stacked against him just because of his zipcode.

Now he’s committed to not letting where you come from determine where you can go.

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This past year, Elevate provided more than $69,000 worth of scholarships to 71 students, and for the past six years  their students have had a 100-percent graduation rate and 98-percent graduation rate. And their placement rate to college, military or trade school is at 96-percent.

Their tagline is that college may not be for everyone, but education is.

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