ST. PETERSBURG – Gibbs High School, located at 850 34th St. S, was buzzing with excitement last Fri., Sept. 4. Not only were students revved up to show their school spirit, but some were granted early acceptance into Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) with some major scholarships.
“This year we’re starting things out on a different note,” said Gibbs High School Principal Reuben Hepburn at their school kickoff pep rally. It was hot and humid outside, but students didn’t seem to mind. They looked to their academic leader as if he were a rock star on stage.
“Are you with me,” he asked the crowd to a loud roar of approval. Hepburn wants the usual naysayers that tend to put down the school to sing a different tune this year and he wants students at the school to make it happen.
“The negative publicity this school has received has been unfair. And right now the culture of the school, the faculty, the parents are just so beaten down by the reputation of the school so this is a way of addressing that culture and that reputation in a positive way,” said Hepburn.
He encouraged everyone at the rally to believe in themselves and to make the year about demonstrating respect and pride for the school as well.
Gibbs was spotlighted last year by local businesses as worthy of a VIP Spirit Package, which boiled down to $35,000 being lavished upon them. The money was used to beef up school spirit, which makes the students proud of showing up every day to class with the ultimate goal of higher graduating rates. The finishing touches were made over the summer and Gibbs now boasts avenue banners, wall murals and windscreens.
“Our students were already texting and on Facebook they were telling their friends about what is happening at Gibbs,” said Hepburn. Many students have commented on their love for the updated campus and how it looks like college. “They were overjoyed with the transformation.”
But the big news of the day was more than evoking school spirit via a pep rally. The junior and senior classes were invited to their own personal celebration with FAMU as the main attraction.
After a college fair where different school programs were explained to the high schoolers such as the School of Allied Health Sciences, School of the Environment and the School of Business and Industry, there was an electrifying special performance by current FAMU students.
Entitled “Passport to Success: #RattlersStrikeWorldwide,” FAMU hopefuls learned all about the university through song and dance. Performers dressed up as stewards and stewardesses while navigating the students through the 128-year history of the university.
After the performance, the students knew what was coming next. Some students were going to be offered scholarships to FAMU, and all were excited to find out who would be chosen.
For years Gibbs has been working toward building a gateway for its graduating seniors so that they can continue their studies, and everything fell into place for the 2015-16 school year.
“It was not an easy partnership,” admits the Business Economics, Technology Academy (BETA) Principal Ija Hawthorne. They just found out on Monday that everything was a go. “This was about two years in the making.”
Since the beginning of last week, students fervently researched FAMU to see if it would be a good fit, got their ACT and SAT scores in order along with their GPA and applied to the college. Logan Caraballo, a 16- year-old senior, has been on the right track from the very beginning. Although family members have attended college, no one in his immediate family has ever graduated from college. He hopes to be the first.
“If my nieces and nephews want to go to college they’re not going to look back and say, ‘Oh no one else went.”’ They’ll say, ‘Oh my Uncle Logan went,’ and they’ll do that too,’” said Caraballo who was honored to be chosen as a front runner for acceptance to FAMU.
Peyton McGuigan, a senior and Junior ROTC Battalion Commander, hoped to land a scholarship. “I’ve worked hard every day of my life to do that,” he said. McGuigan was chosen to take the trip to FAMU this past summer with Gibb’s faculty to scope out the possibilities.
Raven Wiggins feels the same. Involved with the Pep Squad and student government president, Wiggins would love to make FAMU her home after high school. After all, her brother graduated from there. “I’ve been doing what he’s been telling me to do,” she said speaking of Hepburn and his push to help students apply and secure their futures early.
But at the end of the afternoon when Dr. William Hudson Jr., FAMU Vice President of Student Affairs, took the stage not everyone who applied, not everyone who has put in the hard work day after day for the past three years received an instant spot.
He made his point quickly. “I’ve got some money to give out,” he announced to screams of anticipation. All in all some 13 students received early acceptance and scholarships to boot. Some more than others. Caraballo earned top notch honors going home with a $65,000 free ride to FAMU. McGuigan and Wiggins did not.
But although not every student who applied was chosen early, Dr. Hudson promised to hold scholarships until May of 2016 to give those overlooked on Friday another chance. “So that you have the opportunity to improve your GPA or your test scores,” said Dr. Hudson.
So the final message? Don’t give up, there’s still an entire school year left for Gibbs High students to reach their goals. Good luck seniors!
In 2014, FAMU was recognized among the 2014 U.S. News & World Report’s “Best National Universities.” It also lists FAMU as the top public historically black college or university in the nation for 2015. It is also listed among The Princeton Review’s “Best in the Southeast” colleges and is one of the top picks for providing a high quality education at an affordable price in Florida, according to The College Database (2013).