ST. PETERSBURG — Over 650 community members gathered together and voted to work on fixing Pinellas County schools Mon., Oct 12 at the Holy Family Catholic Church, 200 78th Ave. S.
Community members assembled after sharing stories in small group settings during the month of September.
“We shared about struggles we are facing within our own families and neighborhoods. We did not simply meet together to complain about problems but to affirm our commitment to do something about them,” said Rev. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church.
Members of the 38 congregations that make up Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) shared stories of their experiences related to community problems. One such story was shared by FAST member Latoya Reed about her son, who was in third grade and failing at Lakewood Elementary.
Reed visited her son at school and was concerned by the chaos and lack of discipline. She pulled him from Lakewood and scraped together money to send him to a private school where he began to excel.
“While my son went on to succeed in school and graduate, we still have thousands of kids struggling to read in our schools,” said Reed.
Attendees at Monday’s meeting were given the option to vote on social services, neighborhood issues, healthcare, criminal justice, transportation, senior issues, jobs or education. As each of the 38 congregations present placed their votes, education was the clear winner.
“Schools all over the county are struggling. We tell kids they can achieve anything if they try, but the reality is many kids are not being given the tools they need to succeed. The system fails them,” said Janice Metz of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church.
Over the last five years, FAST has approached the school board with solutions to address low reading scores and behavior problems in high poverty schools. During that time, school board members refused to implement any of the solutions suggested by the parents and grandparents involved with FAST.
This year, members have committed to increase their efforts to get the school board to cooperate and to join with other allies and partners from throughout the county who are fed up with failing schools. Next year’s Nehemiah Action will be held Mon., April 18 at 7 p.m. at Tropicana Field.
Congregations present at Monday’s event committed to have more than 3,000 people in attendance to bring forward solutions to the issues of education, homelessness and youth arrest.
In addition to voting to address education, FAST members brought forth Representative Dwight Dudley from District 68. Dudley agreed to cosponsor legislation to decrease the number of youth arrested and increase access to a diversionary program through the civil citation.
For more information regarding FAST visit www.FASTPinellas.org or call (727) 823-9197.