Oliver receives the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for 33 years of educating

Jim Oliver

 

By Joyce Nanette Johnson, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — James Oliver is the 2016 recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award presented by the Florida Education Association at their annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Luncheon held last month. He was honored for 33 years as a stellar educator in Pinellas County Schools, and for developing several innovative programs that have been utilized throughout the county.

Oliver’s first introduction to children’s programs was when he tagged along with his father who worked as a recreational leader at Campbell Park.

Incidentally, his father, James Oliver Sr., played for the Negro League Baseball team the Indianapolis Clowns. The Clowns were owned by the same owner as the Harlem Globetrotters, and also incorporated comedic moves on the playing field.

Oliver graduated Gibbs High School class of 1958 and then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He credits that institution with molding his vision and shaping his life forever.

“Morehouse introduced me to a world that I had little knowledge of until that point,” he said. Oliver graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history, but came away with so much more. “I discovered more of the need for the community.”

Oliver began his teaching career at the former 16th Street Junior High School, now known as John Hopkins Middle School, in 1963. Through the years he worked at many facilities, ending his career at Harris Tips Teen Parent Program in 1996.

He has founded several programs that addressed the educational needs and issues of students, such as Beta, which was a drug prevention program for middle school students.

“They were courses for self-esteem, communication skills and skills for refusing drugs,” Oliver explained.  “Transactional analysis, making adult decisions.”

He also introduced them to classical art and music to broaden their life experiences, and instructed them in golf and tennis because he believes that “individual sports depend on individual efforts.”

Stars, was a program he launched at Mt. Zion Human Services for middle school boys to avoid domestic violence. “Teen violence is escalating and boys as young as 14 or 15 talk about slapping women around,” Oliver said.

He developed a pilot program at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School to prevent school dropouts called the Model School Achievement Program. In this self-contained classroom, most of the children suffered with similar issues, such as absenteeism, health issues, most had a least one parent who’d dropped out of school and many were hunger. “Hunger is really impacting our kids,” he stated.

Oliver is a firm believer in alternative teaching where each child is taught the way they learn best: auditory, tactile or visually.

Currently mentoring students at Melrose Elementary School, Oliver continues to be an advocate for programs that assist students to realize their full potential while navigating through the difficult pre-teen and teen years.  He is now developing a new initiative called Community Mentoring Program, a program he hopes will bring together children and a one-on-one mentor.

He continues fighting for children because he realizes that they are challenged by family issues, academic obstacles and violence.

Nominated by the Pinellas County Teachers Associated, Oliver said he just wanted to enhance the students culturally, spirituality and educationally.

“In the classroom you can open their minds.  I like watching them succeed.”

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