BTAG celebrates success

Gwen and James Feazell



LARGO – For 13 years, Bridging the Achievement Gap (BTAG) has brought together parents, teachers and the community in an effort to close the academic achievement gap between culturally diverse students in Pinellas County Schools.  Since that day back in 2003, 1,937 students have been served.

Founders James and Gwen Feazell assembled a team of current and retired educators, volunteers and financial contributors to offer quality tutoring and reliable transportation. BTAG developed a systematic concept of using “The 4 Rs”—Relationship, Relevance, Rigor, Result—to insure that their students succeed by meeting academic and social expectations.

“You can’t just expect the school system to do it. As parents and as neighbors, we have to do it,” said Feazell, at a fundraising banquet Aug 18 held at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

The banquet highlighted some of the program’s best and brightest and the educators who mold them.

“BTAG was a blessing that continues to give and I am proud and grateful for it,” said recent program graduate Shakari Robinson.

Shakari thrived while attending the same elementary school her mother taught at, but once she got into middle school she started to slack. By the time high school came around, she was really in trouble.

Apprehensive about attending the BTAG program, her fears were subsided when teachers understandingly worked with her. Shakari graduated from Largo High with honors this past June and is attending Florida Atlantic University where she is majoring in psychology.

Michelle Topping, director of Educational Alternative Services was on hand to explain the Mobile Course Credit Recovery (MCCR) program offered at BTAG. This program is for students who are willing to work online at their own pace three afternoons a week. Teachers will help when needed.

Students make up credits or recover courses to improve their GPA or meet graduation requirements. Last year nine students were enrolled at the start of the year, and out of those nine, seven were able to graduate in June. Five of the nine were able to successfully pass their courses at school thereby eliminating the need for credit recovery. Two other students completed a course each and raised their GPA.

“For all of the things that they’ve done for my family and all the things that BTAG will continue to do for all the families in the community, I say thank you,” said Felicia Hills, parent of Colby Boyd.

Colby was picked up from school, received tutoring and brought back home at the end of the day. Hills expressed how appreciative she was for the teachers who kept her informed on his progress. With help from BTAG, Colby graduated from Seminole High School this past June.

Growing up, retired educator and current BTAG volunteer Pat Palmateer listened to her parents’ money woes. She vowed not to ever be in that position and knew education was the best way out of poverty. She worked hard and received a full scholarship from Stetson University.

“An education changed my life,” said Palmateer as she gave the keynote speech.

Palmateer said parents and grandparents are the first teachers in a child’s life because children not only learn what they teach, but they also learn from their actions.

She advised parents and grandparents that their role is vital when it comes to helping their children and grandchildren reach their personal and professional goals.

Palmateer stressed the importance of reading daily to children from the time they are babies, and not letting them slack throughout their educational career.

“It breaks my heart to see a bright student take the easiest course he or she can and get by with a C,” said Palmateer. “They are wasting so much of themselves. If a course is hard, get them extra help.”

She next gave advice to educators, stressing that they need a thorough understanding of the subject matter and to make learning exciting.

“If the teacher seems bored, what do you expect from the kids?”

A poor teacher can stunt a child’s learning, which can have catastrophic consequences. A good teacher will access the different learning styles in the classroom and tailor their lessons around them.

For example, some students are auditory learners and some are visual or tactile learners. If a teacher is only giving lectures, the visual and tactile learners will fall behind.

Personal traits of a teacher need to include being accepting, fair, respectful, supportive and calm. It should never matter to them about their students’ race, creed, color or sexual preference, she said.

Palmateer also mentioned that some students’ home life might not be stable, so it is up to the teacher to understand that “getting to school is just about all they can handle some days.”

There are times when both teachers and parents are strained and tired and just can’t give their best, but Palmateer stressed that the children must be made the priority.

“Can you image what the world would be like if everyone made children and education a top priority,” she asked.

In keeping with tradition, BTAG brought back a former student who has now graduated college. Eboni Green graduated Largo High School and 2008 and attended the University of Central Florida where she received a bachelor’s degree in health services and administration.

“This is all by the grace of God, and of course, the assistance of Bridging the Achievement Gap,” she stated. “I was taught a great level of responsibility, determination and dedication.”

Thanking her parents and the Feazells for her success, she is now a client service manager for a healthcare provider.

At the end of the evening, Feazell walked around the room thanking almost everyone from his teachers and mentors who instilled in him the importance of education, to the teachers who spend their time instructing students, right down to the volunteers who drive the van to pick the kids up and take them home.

Congratulations to BTAG for another successful year of bridging the achievement gap.

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