Gina Tufino’s oldest daughter was enrolling in classes at Polk State College when a glance changed the educational path for her younger children.
Come next school year, Tufino will have had four children attend Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School. Two have already graduated. One is currently enrolled. Another will begin next year.
“We actually just stumbled upon it,” Tufino said. “My oldest had graduated high school and we were at Polk State, registering her for classes. I saw something about Gateway. I looked into it and it’s the best decision that we could have ever made.”
A Gateway Family
Three of Tufino’s daughters earned Associate in Arts degrees from Polk State in May. The oldest, Kaitlyn, did not attend Gateway, but graduated from Polk State and is currently in the College’s Nursing Program. Twins Keisey and Keilah graduated from Gateway with their AA degrees and are now attending Florida International University in Miami.
“Even now at FIU, everyone my age is just getting started with college,” Keisey Tufino said. “I’m already two years in and can focus on my major. I’d tell everyone with this opportunity to go ahead and get your AA now. It was at no cost.”
The twins each graduated from Gateway with better than a 4.0 grade-point average (GPA). Because of their success, younger brother Aiden will be allowed to enroll next year as a high school sophomore. Their sister, Kiersten, is a high school junior and currently enrolled at Gateway.
“We are a Gateway family,” Gina Tufino said. “We love Polk State. In general, Polk State has such a positive atmosphere. The faculty and staff truly care about the students. At Gateway, the administration was always there and went the extra mile for the kids.”
On a Personal Level
As a result of Gateway’s small enrollment, administrators and faculty can give students more individualized focus. The Class of 2022 had just 123 students.
“Everyone knew me by my name,” Keilah Tufino said. “They knew my personal goals. I was more than just another student.”
Making their home in Davenport, the twins began high school at Four Corners Charter School – more than 35 miles from Gateway. The family said the longer drive was worth it.
“Regular high school wasn’t for me, but I just loved Gateway,” Keisey Tufino said. “I recommend it to everyone. If you can start in 10th grade, that’s even better. What separates the faculty is how involved they were. They were constantly checking on us. Ms. (Interim Assistant Principal Tania) Chandler and Ms. (Principal Meesha) Downing(-Townsend) were the two who really made sure we had everything we needed. They made sure we stayed on top of our classes and did everything we needed to do to graduate on time. At the same time, the workload wasn’t too stressful.”
Keilah Tufino is currently majoring in psychology and minoring in education. She plans to get a master’s in psychology with a focus in behavioral analysis as well as her teaching certificate. She hopes to work as a therapist when school is completed.
“I definitely think Gateway was an amazing opportunity,” Keilah Tufino said. “At 18 years old, I have an associate degree. I tell everyone it was so worth it.”
Keisey Tufino earned her AA in criminology while attending Gateway and is currently majoring in criminal justice. She hopes to ultimately go to law school and become a criminal defense attorney.
“Being able to graduate with your associate degree is a big advantage,” her mother said. “My twins have goals of getting master’s degrees, so they always had great grades and were very focused on school. You have to want it. They did and it was all worth it.”
No Missing Out
Among the misnomers about Polk State’s Collegiate high schools is that students must sacrifice the extracurricular activities offered by traditional high schools. Keisey Tufino noted that Gateway afforded her more time for such things.
“The great thing about Gateway was I didn’t have to take any high school classes,” she said. “I only had classes twice a week, so that opened up the rest of my schedule. I had a lot of free time. I could even make plans on weekdays.”
Despite leaving Four Corners Charter School for Gateway, the Tufino twins remained a part of the cheerleading team at their old school. Both now cheer at FIU.
“The high school does a good job to make sure their students have all the same things as the other students,” Keilah Tufino said. “They make sure you don’t miss out. I did cheerleading and I went to prom. The positives outweigh any negatives that anyone could think of.”
In addition to cheerleading, college, and maintaining a social life, the twins also worked part-time jobs.
“It’s an amazing program,” Gina Tufino concluded. “My girls were still involved in everything – all the school functions and the extracurricular activities. We love the school and everything that Gateway has done for us.”