A jewel in the community

PETERSBURG — I don’t know the exact moment when they captured my heart. Was it the firm handshakes or the warm welcome and direct eye contact when I entered the Grand Ballroom of the Vinoy® Renaissance? Maybe it was when I heard the sweet voices of the young female choir sing in three-part harmony.

All I know is that Academy Prep students are impressive!

As you all know by now, I am very passionate, and of my many passions are children and education. I was invited to Academy Prep’s Breakfast for Scholars by Head of School Gina Burkett and board member Joe Bourdow.

More than 500 people came out to support the school. Under the beautiful Dale Chihuly blown glass chandelier, these young people shared their stories.

Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor of Bethel AME Church, just happened to be my seatmate. Leave it to me, a preacher’s kid, to find a seat next to the minister in the room. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Situated in the heart of south St. Pete, the school has a current enrollment of 113 students from fifth through eighth grade. With many D and F schools in south Pinellas County, most of the students entering the nationally accredited nonprofit middle school are two or three grades behind.

However, with Academy Prep’s educational model, they have churned out successful scholars year after year.

Since 2005, 99 percent of their alumni have graduated from high school on time, with 71 percent now college students or graduates, and an additional 10 percent are proud members of the armed forces!

Seventy-five percent of Academy Prep scholars matriculate into prestigious private or boarding schools, both in St. Pete and around the country, and another 25 percent go on to advanced public honors or magnet high school programs.

Academy Prep’s mission is to inspire and empower students qualifying for need-based scholarships to become future community leaders through a rigorous middle school program. Their three pillars of education include a college preparatory curriculum, enriching extracurricular activities and eight years of ongoing graduate support.

I was blessed to meet alum Jonathan Dacres and his family. Graduating from Academy Prep in 2013 and Shorecrest Preparatory in 2017, he was on hand to receive the 2018 Ben Fischer Alumni Mentoring Award. Jonathan is currently a psychology major at the University of Tampa.

We were also treated to the perspectives of retired police officer and mentor Joe Murray. He talked about “equitable” versus “equal” education, what it takes to be a game changer in a young person’s life and the additional resources needed to bring students up to grade level.

With a new structure facing 22nd Avenue South and upgrades to the existing facility, the money raised at the Oct. 25 fundraising breakfast will go a long way in ensuring Academy Prep thrives in Midtown.

I had such a great time at the breakfast that I decided to show up bright and early this Monday morning and spend a day with my new best friends. I was surprised to see my name on their marquee welcoming me as their special guest. They had a special parking place for me, and I was greeted on the spot by two students.

I was able to start the day with them, witness their daily pledge, which was written by students, and meet the scholars who were recognized for their achievements. Many of them came up afterward to shake my hand and welcome me. After a tour of the school, I sat in on a classroom where critical thinking was being exercised.

Speaking one on one with two students who have already mapped out their next academic steps after middle school, there is no doubt that these scholars are on their way to Duke or Harvard.

However, my favorite moment that morning was seeing two students I’d worked with at Mt. Zion Christian Academy, first-year student Ke’Mareya Bradley and Julian Johns, a second-year scholar. I am so proud of them.

Academy Prep is a jewel in the community that radiates access, success and a bright future to all students that enters its doors.

For more information admissions, volunteering opportunities or mentoring, please call (727) 322-0800 or log on to academyprep.org/stpete/.

Click here to be amazed at what a structured curriculum and caring adults can do for your child who is failing in the Pinellas County School system.

To reach Faye Tippy, email ftippy@theweeklychallenger.com

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