ST. PETERSBURG – Students usually look forward to the end of the school year when they can spend time away from the daily grind of the classroom. But some 50 local youths have taken a different approach to summer.
The Summer Training in Youth Leadership & Employment (S.T.Y.L.E.) program is underway, and local students aged 14-16 are learning skills that will last them a lifetime.
S.T.Y.L.E is funded by the City of St. Petersburg but is the brainchild of the Pinellas County Urban League. Participants are exposed to information on how to prepare themselves for future success both in and out of the classroom.
Through a series of workshops, seminars and field trips youths receive training in the areas of employability skills, leadership development and career development/college preparation.
Pacherrah Faulkner is a paraprofessional with Pinellas County Schools and owns her own consulting business alongside her husband. For the last six summers, she has worked as a lead instructor for S.T.Y.L.E.
The curriculum is designed to focus on a major topic every week. Week one consisted of instruction in communication and presentation skills where students learned the fine art of articulation and looking the part.
Financial literacy was introduced in week two and different facets are to be discussed week-to-week.
“Financial literacy is a big piece that seems to be lagging in our communities,” said Faulkner.
She believes entrepreneurship is where the future is heading; therefore, more time is allotted in financial literacy so students can be well prepared on the subject.
“We really harp on that with the students.”
Career and college preparation skills are another topic that receives a lot of attention. Guest speakers are brought in to speak with participants about not only how to dress for success in an interview setting, but how to continue the role of a put-together employee on a day-to-day basis.
Guest speakers range anywhere from human resource and hiring managers to local stylists and even Faulkner’s husband who instructs young males on how to tie a tie.
High profile speakers are also on the list such as Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Andrews, who will attend with the start of the Law and Me/Government week. Additional speakers will include School Board member Rene Flowers and both a current and former professional athlete will be on hand to discuss what it really takes to get into professional sports.
Both Mayor Rick Kriseman and Congressman Charlie Crist spent some time recently speaking with the youths, answering questions and giving some advice. Both seemed concerned with spreading a message of civility, and inspiring students not to give up.
They encouraged program participants to use their voices for the good of the community and in a positive manner.
“I think any person can have an impact on others by how they conduct themselves,” said Rep. Crist, who believes it all comes down to respecting others. “There are ways you can communicate without being offensive.”
He went on to encourage students to stay focused and in the present, not to harp on the past. “Don’t be limited by anything in your life; you can do anything.”
Kriseman had a few pointers of his own to help students questioning whether high school was worth the effort. He encouraged the youths to stick with education and to make connections, even when they can’t initially see the big picture.
“Everything you learn is a piece of the puzzle that comes together to make you who you end up being as a person,” said Kriseman, acknowledging that it may seem like the information is irrelevant. “Sometimes you get surprised; enjoy every minute of it.”
The program will continue with proper etiquette and social skills, as well as how to create strong relationships with adults through mentoring programs and networking.
“Hopefully at the end of the eight weeks every topic that we concentrated on, we’ve left an indelible impression on them,” said Faulkner.
But it seems the S.T.Y.L.E. program has already made a significant impact on its members. Although the program can’t be repeated, students are welcome to volunteer in future summers. One such volunteer brought up the topic of homelessness and its prevalence in St. Pete.
After student-led meetings, a plan was created to put together care packages. Program participants plan to use their own money to purchase toiletry items and spend a few Saturdays distributing the packages.
“I’m allowing students to take a lead on it,” said Faulkner.
She feels allowing students to come up with solutions and organize without adults telling them what to do will have a greater impact on teaching them to become leaders and how to interact with adults in leadership without feeling intimidated.
S.T.Y.L.E. participants also plan to offer neighborhood cleanups to the elderly and needy in an effort to become actively involved in their community.
“A lot of them don’t do that now, but they want to know what to do now to make a difference,” said Faulkner.
The S.T.Y.L.E. program accepts applications as early as March of each year, but it fills up fast so mark your calendars. The program is hosted by Pinellas Technical College and St. Petersburg College and is open to students 14-16 years of age.
Eligible students must meet income requirements and be residents of St. Petersburg. Participants receive a $500 stipend for completing the eight-week course.