Pepin Academies Graduate Joseph Bratsztein is Primed for Success

2017 Salutatorian Reflects on Pepin Academies Career and Valuable Internship with the Hillsborough County Public Defenders’ Office.

We may see him serving as a state legislator in Tallahassee, looking out for his fellow Floridians’ best interest in the near future. Or we might see him walking the halls of Congress one day. He may even have his own law practice right here in Tampa Bay. While his exciting future has yet to be written, we know one thing about Joseph Bratsztein: The 2017 Pepin Academies Salutatorian and soon-to-be University of South Florida student will be a success at whatever he wants to do in life.

A Pepin Academies-sponsored field trip to Tallahassee to meet lawmakers and receive a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the state capital not long ago helped catapult this young man’s interest in studying law and politics after high school. “That trip was very exciting and made me want to dream and pursue a life in politics and the law,” Bratsztein said recently as he recounted some of his favorite memories of his six years at Pepin Academies. “I am lucky to have been part of a great trip like that where I could possibly see where I want to end up after college.”

Another highlight of Joseph’s stellar academic career at Pepin Academies was participating in a mock debate at the Florida House of Representatives, where Joseph helped propel his team to victory.

Joseph plans to attend USF starting in January where he has dreams of earning a political science degree, law degree or both. What really excited Joseph and put him on a path toward his passions of politics and law happened outside of the classroom. For the past two years Joseph has had the amazing opportunity to volunteer for elected official Julie Holt and her wonderful team of professionals at the Hillsborough County Public Defender’s Office.

“I have loved working in this office as it’s educated me about a lot of many things pertaining to the law that will help me in my career,” Joseph says. The high-volume Public Defender’s Office has given him an education within his Pepin Academies education, according to Public Defender Julie Holt.

“Joseph imaged intake documents, uploaded documents and much more to help our office run smoothly,” says Holt. “Joseph has a great understanding of the law and he has a solid understanding of attorney-client privilege. I think it’s wonderful for Joseph to have a dream and venture into politics at the local level and then who knows from there. Joseph has added a great deal to my office and I know it’s been satisfying for all of us at the Public Defenders Office to have worked with him. Joseph has very focused dreams and I think that’s great. That speaks volumes. He will be a success at whatever he wants to do in life and has a great future ahead of him.”

Like many Pepin Academies students who transition from a public school setting, Joseph found Pepin Academies to be inviting and sensitive of his needs. “Pepin Academies is so supportive and helpful,” he says. “The teachers show you how to do it and then expect you to do it right. They want their students to improve and the slower pace really helped me achieve positive things. I had no idea when I started at Pepin Academies that I would be Salutatorian. I liked the small classes and made so many friends there. I’m pretty excited to see what the future holds for me.”

Joseph’s mom, Carol, says she is eternally grateful for Pepin Academies and the positive path Joseph found after struggling in the traditional classroom setting. “Pepin Academies helped Joseph tremendously,” she says. “His success has been amazing thanks to all the dedicated teachers, administrators and staff. He would’ve been left behind in public school; it would’ve been very hard for him to get to this point with everyone’s help at Pepin Academies.” Joseph’s dad, Michael credits all the opportunities Pepin Academies gives students to help with Joseph’s well-rounded education. From school trips to sports teams, extracurricular activities, internships and more, students have many ways to find their passion and create life-long bonds with their friends and school.

“Pepin Academies did a wonderful job for Joseph,” says Mr. Bratsztein. “It prepared him for the next stage of his life. I am confident Joseph is ready to pursue his dreams. He’s had many wonderful opportunities afforded to him such as the position at the Public Defender’s Office. We are forever supporters of Pepin Academies and its mission to help the community’s children.”

As Joseph prepares for his exciting journey to college soon, he says cheering for the USF Bulls football team this fall will be a priority. Best wishes to Joseph and all the 2017 Pepin Academies graduates as they write a new chapter in their book of life. 

Five thousand, four hundred, seventy five days in foster care. That’s the first 15 years of my life. In that time, I never went to one school a whole school year. My Mom and I became a family on my bio 15th birthday. She is my 13th and final home. In 7th grade, I met a special ESE teacher, Ms. Maz, who changed my life. She took time to explain my IEP to my Mom and she didn’t judge me based on what she read, but really got to know me. I spent 7th and 8th grade with her, and she taught me how to learn.  

I started at Pepin Pasco my freshman year and this is where I truly started to understand that a learning disability didn’t mean I was dumb, but that my brain learns differently. I am challenged in different ways and I was encouraged to ask for and use my accommodations. Attending Pepin Academies has changed my entire life. Not just academically, but every part of it. I never even thought about attending college before Pepin. Last fall I received my first quarter report card of my Junior year and had high honor roll and a 3.7143 GPA, and that means I can have my choice of colleges.  

At Pepin Academies we are encouraged to share and help each other. We have smaller classes than a traditional public high school, and our teachers have the time to give us all equal and individual attention. This has helped me, in math in particular. I am dyslexic and have dyscalculia. My brain doesn’t see a number line. So for me, in math it makes all the difference that I have teachers who can recognize how I learn best and assist me with my special accommodations. I’m proud to say I received a B in Algebra 2 this quarter.  

Although attending Pepin is free for all students, the school relies on funding from the community in addition to the funding it receives from the state. Imagine if all kids like me, who have a learning disability, can go to a school where they have an opportunity to learn in a way that suits their learning style. Kids can be in an environment where they are not afraid or ashamed to ask for and use their accommodations. Kids like me deserve to have their best chance at a great education. Kids like me deserve to follow their dreams and attend college. Kids like me want to reach their full potential and rise to new heights.