BY RENE FLOWERS, Pinellas County School Board Member, District 7
ST. PETERSBURG — Anyone who says that parents do not care about their children’s education could not have been at Campbell Park or Maximo Elementary Schools for Meet the Teacher Night!
From a thought, to a conversation, to full execution, Deborah Figgs-Sanders, executive director of the Childs Park YMCA wanted to make a difference in the lives of Pinellas County students. Typically, a back-to-school supply giveaway is the featured event; however this year, Figgs-Sanders wanted to find a way to give students something more — she wanted to distribute school uniforms.
The only question left to be answered was how to raise the money in a short period of time? As Figgs-Sanders and I discussed her idea, we both became so elated and so excited at the prospects of what this could mean to so many families in need.
She did not know where she would get the funds from so she started with a dedicated partner — Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. His immediate response was a resounding YES! Thanks to the strong financial support from the sheriff and additional financial support from Commissioner Kenneth Welch, Figgs-Sanders was able to buy the uniforms.
The next task was to coordinate with the schools, garner volunteers and get the word out. Of course she assigned that task to me and I was only too happy to assist. I cannot begin to thank the principals and staff of each of the schools for working with me as well as Superintendent Dr. Grego’s full and unwavering support.
We were able to form an even stronger network and support system with Judge Patrice Moore, volunteers from the National Council of Negro Women, The Pinellas County Urban League, Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church’s Cross & Anvil Center, Area Superintendent Pat Wright, Sheriff Officers Patrick and Lawson and so many others. Each one set the stage so that the event was heartwarming and soul stirring.
Each student received three tops and two bottoms in their school uniform colors. There was one catch to the evenings event, however, parents or guardians had to visit their student’s classroom and have a conversation with the teacher about their child, share what their expectations were for their student, allow the teacher to share their expectations of the students and form a bond of cooperation and collaboration as one unit working together to educate and guide the student.
If the connection would only occur sporadically in the future based on a number of variables, at least the initial communication would have occurred before school started.
At Campbell Park parents were asked to sign the commitment board, acknowledging that they would be a part of the Student Scholars Education while attending the school.
Gathering in the cafeteria after visiting their students’ class, we distributed over 1,200 clothing items, connected with 89 parents at Campbell Park and 82 at Maximo and hugged the necks of I don’t know how many students.
David Jezek, president/CEO of the YMCA shared words of thanks at Campbell Park Elementary and Dr. Grego shared words of thanks at Maximo Elementary.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this event would not have been as successful without the support and coordination of the principals of each school, LaKisha Falana and Christine Hoffman as well as their staff. They both changed the night of their Meet and Greet so that we could get the uniforms to the families before school started.
Everyone’s heart who participated was simply overflowing!
Our students are scholars. Dressing the students was the easy part. Now, it’s time to get back to work!