PHS Student 2024 Step Up Award Recipient

Baptista Fernando Muanda is the 2024 recipient of the Portland High School Step Up Award. The award helps free recipients from having to do paid work after school and on weekends so that they can fully participate in extracurricular activities, serve in leadership roles, and expand their horizons.

The Step Up Award is specifically intended for students in the Make It Happen Program, a nationally recognized college readiness program for Portland Public Schools multilingual students in high school and middle school. Many students in the program have to forego school-year extracurricular opportunities in order to help support their families.

Baptista, a rising junior at Portland High School who plans to become an engineer, was presented with the award during a ceremony at Portland High School on Friday, May 17. Baptista will receive $1,250 per semester until graduation for his last two years of high school.

The Step Up Award was created by Ann and Bill Weber, parents of two Portland High School graduates. The Webers said, “The Step Up Award allows deserving kids a chance to grow and mature and become more productive citizens through involvement with athletic or co-curricular activities. Extracurricular activities, which motivate students to come to school and provide the opportunity to work as a team or lead a group effort, are invaluable to growth and developing leadership skills and can often lead to better grades. Many kids aren’t able to take full advantage of extracurricular activities because of family responsibilities or the need to supplement the family income.”

Baptista said, “This award is not just about financial assistance; it represents a chance for me to grow, thrive, and make a positive impact in both my life and the lives of others around me.”

Rohan Henry, coordinator of the Make It Happen program at the district’s high schools, said, “Baptista was selected for the award because he personifies the spirit of Make It Happen. Baptista is welcoming, he is dedicated and focused and he aspires to keep the well-being of his community close to heart.”

Baptista and his family immigrated to the United States from Angola last year. He’s the oldest of three siblings raised by their mother. Baptista not only tries to be a rock for his mother, who works long hours as a janitor to support the family, but also a father figure to guide his younger brothers. He also is involved in a wide variety of activities.

Baptista is a standout soccer player, who received a scholarship to play at the Maine Lightning Soccer Club, which plays in several out-of-state tournaments. Baptista also gives back to his community by volunteering in soccer clinics to help young kids in their soccer development. Last summer, Baptista participated in the Maine Youth Corps, a program that facilitates personal and professional growth through community service and hands-on conservation projects in Greater Portland. He plays drums in church and takes drum lessons. He has been accepted into the Upward Bound Program, where he receives academic support, college preparation, and personal development outside of regular school hours, and spends several weeks in the summer at University of Maine at Orono. This summer, he plans to do an internship with Maine Construction Academy, through which he’ll spend four weeks at South Portland High School exploring multiple crafts. When he completes the program, he’ll be able to interview at a job fair with post-secondary schools, employers, and unions and will have a nationally recognized credential.

In his application for the award, Baptista wrote, “As a student actively involved in the Upward Bound program, balancing rigorous academics and extracurricular activities, financial constraints have always been a challenge. This award would not only alleviate some of the financial burdens but also provide me with the opportunity to focus more on my studies, family responsibilities and personal growth.”