Helping families cross the education finish line

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Aiming to encourage educational achievement for St. Petersburg’s families and students, Ford Christian Academy’s “Crossing the Finish Line” project joins more than 50 community service groups and events honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King during the 2018 MLK Day of Service.

The Christian academy’s Founder and Director Denise Ford said the concept of offering education stations at Tropicana Field came to her immediately.

“I wanted to help families navigate through the educational system from the womb through post-education options. For the MLK Day of Service Family Fun Day at Tropicana Field, we’ll be providing eight 15×15 foot tents that each represents a stage of development and each will house a different community organization or support group.”

The tents will connect families with educational advocates and an array of offerings including games and family engagement resources.

“We want to increase the graduation success rate,” stated Ford, noting that their goal is to have a 95 percent graduation success rate. “Education can be the great equalizer and we want to end the public school to prison pipeline by 100 percent.”

Help Families Cross Education Line, featured, MLKAs a parent who has shepherded her own children to success, as well as providing private teaching and tutoring to other students through her academy, Ford believes there’s absolutely no reason that students in the African-American community should not be succeeding.

She shared the data regarding Pinellas County saying that we have approximately 20,000 African-American students in Pinellas County; 11,000 of those students are in math and reading intervention classes with another 3,600 having Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans.

“So basically, 80 percent of our students are in special classes.  Those assessments are based on the Florida State Assessment test scores, which is invalid and unreliable, but it’s the reason for the disparity is as wide as it is.”

Ford wants parents and students to be aware of opportunities that will help students not only attain their high school degree but also help them succeed beyond high school, whether they choose to enter college, the military or the workforce.  She believes apprenticeships, vocational/ technical schools and real estate present other viable options.

The first tent at the Trop is designed for the womb through early school years and will include the Next STEPP Life Center and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, which provides parents of three to five-year-olds free school readiness services.

Also, Ford will be in the first tent with Ford Christian Academy, sharing K-2 literacy materials that she uses to teach kids how to read.

The third through fifth grade Family Engagement tent will include interactive learning math, reading and educational games. Ford wants parents to know they can give their kids games for learning, not just workbooks.

For sixth through eighth grade, Ford will be partnering with Kidzonomics® and Sheena Qualles-De Freece (who is also one of the MLK Day of Service project organizers offering events throughout the month) for finance and soft skills.

And for older students? The City of St. Pete will be on hand to share about the educational and enrichment programs that are available, as well as volunteer opportunities and jobs for students while they’re in school.

St. Petersburg College will be there to offer programs such as their four-day workshop on how to repair cell phones! They offer job training programs that give students skills they can immediately go out and start earning money with.

Ford’s Day of Service project is unearthing some of the hidden tools offered around the city.  She wants the community to be aware of all the learning options that are available so no child gives up.

“We’re saying, ‘Here are all the people in our community who are here to help you so you are going to cross the finish line.’ We’re here to help; we’re here to serve.”

For more information and resources visit or call (727) 504-3149.

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