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Hernando’s Sunshine State Scholar

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Madalyn “Maddie” Sapia, a junior at Central High School in Brooksville, is the Hernando School District’s sole Sunshine State Scholar for the year 2023 and one of only 28 Florida students to earn this esteemed honor this year.

This honor, awarded at the 26th annual Sunshine State Scholars conference, entitles Sapia, 16, to earn a one-year scholarship from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE). The Sunshine State Scholars program is funded by State Farm and the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. It is a collaboration among the FLDOE, the Florida Education Foundation, the Florida College System, the State University System of Florida, and the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida. Each year, Florida school districts nominate their top junior STEM students for the scholarship. The scholars convene for a two-day conference to be recognized for their academic achievements, and they participate in a tough “think tank” problem-solving activity.

“When I found out I was Hernando County’s Sunshine State Scholar, I felt so honored and almost undeserving of the opportunity. I also didn’t fully understand how much valuable information I would gain from attending the conference in terms of college opportunities and planning,” shared Madalyn Sapia. “When I first found out, I simply wanted to represent my school and county to the best of my ability.”

Since her sophomore year, Sapia has ‘aced’ the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) STEM studies program at Central. The AICE program is an English language curriculum offered through Cambridge International to students in the higher levels of secondary school, intended to prepare them for an honors program during tertiary education.

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Sapia launched her STEM studies through her involvement in Central’s AICE marine science course with Teacher Robert Berger.
“This class was what really inspired me to look into the field of marine science,” she said. “And I give my thanks to Mr. Berger for making this topic interesting and sparking my interest in the field.”

Berger returns the praise, saying that Sapia was the only student to score an “A” on the AICE Marine Science Exam last year. “She is one of my all-time top students. Her average remained at 100% throughout the year. She was always highly motivated,” he said. “In addition to her outstanding academic performance, she is a very nice person. Maddie was the ideal student in every way imaginable.”

Now Sapia takes a full course load of college-level AICE classes in numerous subjects, maintaining a 4.5568-grade point average. She also completes a full regimen of community service hours, tutoring and mentoring other pupils and serving as an active member of the National Honor Society.
And before she was a top-achieving student, she was a little girl who simply loved nature and the environment. “I loved going to beaches and aquariums and going to see the mermaids at Weeki Wachee,” she said. “I always loved the ocean and nature. As I got older, I wanted to study what was down there, to find out how things worked in the environment and the technology we can use to study and enhance it.”

Ultimately, this devoted churchgoer thanks God for the creation of all her surveys. “I thank the Lord for the natural beauty in the world,” she said.

Following graduation, in fact, Sapia plans to supplement her studies at the University of South Florida via a foundational year at Reformation Bible College in Sanford. Her collegiate studies are likely to include an emphasis on marine science, radiology, and medical technology.
Sapia’s end goal is to serve not only the Earth but specifically Hernando County. “I love being involved in my community.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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