Doctors Inlet teacher drives away with tuition-free Master’s degree

Money comes after her parents win ‘Drivers of the Year’ with U.S. Xpress

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 11/4/20

ORANGE PARK – A local teacher rode out of graduate school debt-free thanks to her cross-country, truck-driving parents.

Karen Black and her husband, Richard, are truck drivers for …

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Doctors Inlet teacher drives away with tuition-free Master’s degree

Money comes after her parents win ‘Drivers of the Year’ with U.S. Xpress

Posted

ORANGE PARK – A local teacher rode out of graduate school debt-free thanks to her cross-country, truck-driving parents.

Karen Black and her husband, Richard, are truck drivers for Tennessee-based company, U.S. Xpress. They were awarded the distinction of “Drivers of the Year” earlier this year, and that didn’t prove to be the best thing that happened to couple this year.

That honor goes to their daughter, Tori Granese, who recently graduated debt-free with a Master’s degree in Education with a specialization in Leadership thanks to U.S. Xpress and her parents’ dedication to their job.

“They sent a newsletter out to all the drivers to let us know they were starting this free tuition program,” Black said. “I called my daughter that night to tell her about it and the next day, she was making calls trying to learn more.”

Granese was enrolled in an Ashford University’s online program a week later. She’s a teacher at Doctors Inlet Elementary, and has been teaching in Clay County for years after returning from New York where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Childhood Education from the State University of New York. The idea of obtaining a Master’s degree had been in her head for years, but after getting married, starting a family and starting a teaching career, graduate school just wasn’t in the check books for her.

That is, until U.S. Xpress told Black free tuition for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were available for all drivers and driver-dependents.

“She called me and I was like, ‘you’re joking right?’,” Granese said. “I told her there’s no way it’s free because nothing in life was free so I called to figure it all out and sure enough, it was free. Within a week, I was starting classes.”

It’s a full circle moment for Black and Granese because Granese was born and reared in Clay County. She attended school in the district from kindergarten to eighth grade. Black said it’s awesome to see that Granese’s journey brought her to teaching for the Clay County School District.

Granese actually earned her Master’s degree while teaching her students at Doctors Inlet Elementary. She’s using that degree, which she earned completely online, to teach children through online classes this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Granese is still in the classroom teaching, but her desks are empty because the children she teaches are at home. She said her new degree came in clutch for what 2020 education looks like as a result of the virus.

“I love teaching here,” Granese said. “I would never pick a different county. I grew up in Clay County and it’s what made me who I am today.”

Granese said she loves the sense of community that extends throughout the county and the school district. Everyone looks out for each other, she said, and she and Black think it’s especially awesome this sense of community extends from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Clay County, now thanks to the generosity of U.S. Xpress.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that a company based out of Tennessee is able to give back to communities everywhere,” Granese said. “My students are benefiting from this. Think about the number of people that will benefit from this one degree. It’s not just me, but my students. They have a more knowledgeable teacher thanks to U.S. Xpress.”

Black jokes that Granese is an overachiever and she now wants to earn a Doctorate’s degree. Granese said she finds herself at the same place she was before U.S. Xpress’ generous tuition program: wanting the next degree, but not financially able to just yet.

“I’ve been bugging U.S. Xpress about a doctorate tuition program,” Granese said, joking about the possibility. “We’ll see. Teaching is my future right now and that future is brighter because of what they were able to do for my education.”

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