ST. PETERSBURG –Parents, extended family and friends all gathered Sat., May 23 at Bethel Community Baptist Church, located at 2901 54th Ave. S., to celebrate a milestone in their children’s lives.
“I can remember sitting in the first row in my blue cap and gown,” said Te’Leah Bethel, a sixth grader at Bay Point Magnet Middle School and a 2008 Kidz World graduate, as she welcomed everyone to the ceremony. “I was both nervous and excited.”
Parents, family members, friends and guests were invited to sit back and enjoy the program, which consisted of music, awards and performances, by graduates. In fact, the afternoon was a showcase of academic talent as members of the 2014-2015 graduating class expertly showed off what early learning has given them.
Founder Arthurene Williams introduced all the teachers that in one way or another had a hand in each and every one of the 32 graduates earning their VPK diplomas.
“Parents, preschool is not what it used to be,” she said going on to explain how preschool is now considered the foundation of all learning and not a place to drop your child off for playtime. “Look what the expectations are in Kindergarten, it is very important that we make sure we prepare our children for the next level.”
Founded by Williams and her late husband, Pinellas County School Board member Lew Williams, Kidz World, located at 50-50th St. S., has become a ray of sunshine for parents wishing to get a jumpstart on education for their children.
“The reason that my husband and I even attempted to purchase a preschool was because we wanted to make sure that the children that came through Kidz World’s doors would be prepared,” said Williams who has dedicated years to the center. Proud of her teachers, staff and the students that enter her doors each and every day, Williams can’t help but glow in the awesomeness of the moment.
“They say that students can’t learn, that is not true,” she continued. “If they have not been exposed, they won’t get it, but they can learn if they are exposed.”
So with knowledge as her weapon, Williams, a retired educator and behavior specialist, along with her educators continue to teach the fundamentals of academics to children as young as one.
Students at Kidz World are immersed in learning throughout the day, mastering vocabulary to include prefixes and compound words, how to form sentences to make them better readers and even dabble in Spanish.
Graduates proved their knowledge by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in both English and Spanish, as well as identifying and verbalizing in Spanish various objects, parts of the family, and numbers. The display of knowledge continued with students listing all the states along with their capitals and directions on a map.
But perhaps most impressive of all was the reading of the books. Each graduate had his or her moment in the spotlight. Stepping up to a microphone, their sweet voices ringing throughout the church as they read a book to their family and friends.
Thanks to Karen Davis Pritchett, Pinellas County Educational Specialist for Title 1, VPK parents received two books every month. By writing a grant tapping into funds from the private sector, she made it possible for a program normally reserved for public schools to be offered to the students at Kidz World. She hand delivered the books herself and always spent a little time reading the books to the children before sending them home with their own copy.
Graduating students received the red carpet treatment, along with a medal inscribed with their names, a picture plaque and a goody bag filled with pencils, crayons, coloring books and reading books, all in an effort to promote reading at home.
As part of a literacy partnership, students who completed reading calendars all year earned two free books, a certificate, bookmark and a McDonald’s gift certificate.
School board member Renee Flowers, Childs Park YMCA Executive Director Deborah Figgs-Sanders, Pritchett and Williams’ son, Brandon, all helped to give out diplomas. Each student was handed a Spanish diploma along with a regular diploma with their picture on it. And for those children who started at Kidz World as one year olds, a bobble head with their name on it was reserved for them. Williams was even able to secure a two-dollar bill for each graduate.
The afternoon closed with the announcement of a new scholarship at Kidz World entitled Ms. Bernice’s “Babies.” The scholarship is named after their beloved one-year-old teacher who recently passed.
The recipient of the first award was Braelyn Rose, Ms. Bernice’s great niece. The scholarship will be awarded each year to a student to help pay for their tuition.
“Ms. B was very passionate and dedicated,” said Williams.
She started at Kidz World in 2005 as a VPK assistant. After two years of being an assistant, she earned her own class working with one year olds. She was a surrogate mother and wiped away many tears. Some of the children that went across the stage on Saturday were in her class. Today her legacy lives on as her two daughters work at Kidz World, teaching the same one-year-old class.
“Although she wasn’t their mother, she cared for them each day, cuddled, sang and read to them,” said Williams who couldn’t hold back all her tears.
For more information on how you can sign your child up, check out their Facebook page or give them a call at (727) 322-6316.