In 2010, Thomas Lentz, Amanda McCallister, and Cristina Vega attended the National Education Association (NEA) DA in New Orleans, Louisiana. They were inspired by the huge scale of the democratic organization, and knew they wanted to create a place which allowed students a true voice in the governance of the organization, respected the uniqueness of each chapter, and treated students as credible, professional partners in education. The NEA DA highlighted those strengths in the union and gave them a structure to emulate.
In April of the same year, Amanda and Cristina also attended and presented at a conference in Atlanta, GA. The focus of the conference was improving schools through implementing rigorous curriculum such as the CollegeBoard's Advanced Placement courses. Cristina and Amanda presented information about Ridge Community High School's extracurricular support for these upper-level students. The two Ridge representatives were overwhelmed by the positive response and interest they received from others in attendance.
On April 30, 2010, Sigma Alpha Sigma was born during the 7 hour road trip meeting from Atlanta to Davenport. The goal was to create an organization to teach leadership, build accountability for academic achievement, and to create a positive social culture to promote student achievement. Together, Thomas Lentz, Amanda McCallister, and Cristina Vega would become the founders of Sigma Alpha Sigma. Thomas would step into a financial role for the organization; Cristina would write much of our leadership, mentoring, and tutoring training; Amanda would be responsible for the day-to-day operations, structuring, and public relations for the organization.
On May 29, 2010, the founders gathered a group of students who had been working on the extracurricular support services at Ridge Community High School. The idea of Sigma Alpha Sigma was unveiled. The 75 students who attended that first Forum voted to adopt the Sigma Alpha Sigma name, our signature red and black, and our official "Make Your Mark" motto. At this Forum, students began to map out their ideas for the constitution and bylaws of the organization. They also laid the groundwork for the future of the programs Sigma wanted to sponsor or host in the coming school year.
Over the course of the summer of 2010, the three founders researched avenues for trademarking ideas and creating a business model which would afford them the opportunity to bring Sigma Alpha Sigma to other high school campuses. They found a great deal of financial expertise in working with Tony Persichetti and Don Baer from Auburndale Bookkeeping. Tony and Don directed Sigma toward becoming a 501(c) 3 non-profit corporation. With their assistance, the founders embarked on the monumental task of completing IRS paperwork to become just such a corporation.
The founders ultimately penned the constitution and by laws of Sigma Alpha Sigma. They knew the organization must be an amalgamation of many factors in order to achieve its purpose. Amanda, Cristina, and Thomas reviewed founding documents for academic honor, professional, curriculum-based, social, philanthropic, community, and leadership organizations to help create the founding documents for Sigma. The constitution was agreed upon on September 10, 2010 and was included in the 501(c) 3 paperwork. The IRS paperwork was completed and mailed on December 15, 2010.
On January 31, 2011, bylaws were issued to the Alpha Chapter for review and were ratified on February 26, 2011, via electronic vote of applicant members of the Alpha Chapter. As per those bylaws, members were first inducted into the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Alpha Sigma on March 1, 2011.
In June of 2011, Sigma Alpha Sigma’s Alpha Chapter convened its first leadership camp. Students assuming leadership positions for the 2011-2012 school year (forty-five in total) attended a forty hour leadership camp hosted at Ridge Community High School and were taught by the organization’s three founders. An IRS request for further information concerning the organization was received on June 13, 2011. The requested information was sent to the IRS on June 21, 2011.
The final approval for tax exemption was received by the National Office on July 26, 2011. That same month, members and founders of Sigma Alpha Sigma were invited to present to middle school and high school administrators at a College Board conference in Orlando, Florida.
On August 5, 2011, Amanda McCallister and Thomas Lentz applied for and received the business receipt from Polk County, Florida for Sigma.
In September of 2011, training was rolled out for students in the Alpha Chapter who planned to mentors or tutors. In the first year of training, thirty students attended ten hours of training to be mentors, while more than sixty students attended a ten hour training to prepare them for a year of tutoring their peers.
In May of 2012, the Alpha Chapter hosted the first-ever Inspiration Awards. This award ceremony recognized the contribution of the Sigma members at Ridge Community High School. Students were honored for their exemplary service as leaders, mentors, and tutors on their high school campus.
In June of 2012, Sigma Alpha Sigma’s Alpha Chapter graduated its first group of students. Among those students were Andrew Babcock, Kacie Griffeth, and Jackie Wool, who were instrumental in the foundation and development of Sigma’s culture. Amanda and Tom often defer back to their opinions to help guide the organization into the future.
On November 24, 2012, Sigma Alpha Sigma hosted its first Board of Director’s meeting. Financial security for the organization was on the top of the agenda for that Director’s meeting and subsequent to that session was the opening of the organization’s banking accounts with a local credit union.
Since that time, Amanda and Tom have worked to develop the model for future expansion with the Alpha Chapter at Ridge Community High School. Cristina, while finishing her undergraduate degree at Florida Gulf Coast and her Master’s degree at the University of Vermont, is consulted regularly about the development of Sigma Alpha Sigma. Since its founding, Sigma Alpha Sigma has sought out opportunities to expand the organization to other high schools in need in Central Florida.
The Alpha Chapter is now in its fifth year of operation. It hosts Chapter meetings each month, leadership meetings each week, and trustee meetings each week. Breaks are taken in these meeting schedules for summer. It has held four leadership camps, four tutor trainings, four mentor trainings, and four annual forums. The fifth round of these trainings will begin in the 2015-2016 school year.
In March of 2014, Vince Williams (RCHS alum, former FSU linebacker, and currently on the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers) visited the Alpha Chapter. While meeting with Trustees, he tasked the group of students to find ways to include student athletes in their programs of leadership and academic excellence. Alpha Chapter students created a program called XLIV, or “The 44” (named in honor of Mr. Williams’ RCHS football jersey number 44). XLIV is dedicated to training student athletes to be leaders on the field, in the classroom, and in their community. They tutor their fellow athletes two days a week after school, volunteer at each other’s sporting events, and participate in community projects. The group is seeking avenues to mentor middle school students in the summer time as well.
In March of 2015, Sigma Alpha Sigma gained the attention of the National Education Association’s President, Ms. Lily Eskelsen García. Ms. Eskelsen García visited Ridge Community High School and met with current members, alums, and founders of Sigma Alpha Sigma. After the visit, Ms. Eskelsen García wrote this article about her experience with the students: http://lilysblackboard.org/2015/03/our-members-powerful-educators-thinking-outside-the-tiny-testing-box/