Starling School Class of 2015 Graduates

By Holly Kestenis Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Enoch Davis Center, located at 1111 18th Ave. S., was packed as parents and family members gathered for one of the most monumental moments in a child’s life…graduation from pre-K.

Twenty-six graduates walked down the aisle as the Pomp and Circumstance March was played on the trumpet. Each graduate took their moment in the spotlight. They gathered on the stage where they stood for all to see, their red tassels swaying wildly, too excited to keep still.

“Most of the children that are here are entering the public school system,” said Carolyn Starling Cloud, VPK teacher and Administrator for the Starling School. “We want our children to be ready.”

In fact, the school for pre-kindergarteners is famous locally for some of its long ago graduates. Both Councilman Wengay Newton and School Board Member Rene Flowers can boast their early education received a boost by attending the prestigious preschool.

They make sure that your students don’t just get what they need, they excel and achieve far above and beyond,” said Flowers about Starling School. She spoke to the excited parents about the importance of getting involved once their child enrolls in school asking them to join the Parent, Teacher, Student Association (PTSA) or School Advisory Committee (SAC) at their child’s school.

Since 1974, Starling School has practiced a balance learning philosophy, which is based on sound research and best practices. They focus on child initiated, teacher guided, social-emotional, and character development curriculum.

Learning is based on child relatable themes such as space, transportation and animals in an effort to provide a meaningful context for learning and foster a community of leaders throughout the school and across the system. Starling maintains a holistic, child-centered program through meaningful instruction that is developmentally appropriate and set to guide preschool aged children on their path to learning.

With hundreds of supportive parents and extended family members taking pictures, clapping their hands and wiping away tears, it is hard to believe that their involvement in their child’s academic life will ever waver. But Councilman Newton warns that is indeed the case.

“Over 75 percent of people sitting in the Pinellas County Jail have no high school diploma,” he said. With some 2,400 juveniles arrested just in St. Petersburg last year, and with jail beds being planned according to third grade reading scores, as Newton reminded the captive audience, it is very likely that some of the children in the room will fall victim to life’s epic struggle to stay on top.

“It is imperative that you stay engaged with these babies,” he urged parents. Newton wants all 26 of the Starling students to see a high school diploma and to know what it’s like to succeed in college. “Because if you don’t, if you don’t stay with them, spend time with them, they will spend time in prison.”

Flowers also agreed; she wants every parent, guardian or caregiver to make their voices heard and to get involved.

“Sometimes my voice gets drowned out and goes nowhere,” she said urging parents to step up to the plate with her, to pack every school board meeting and as many events and meetings as possible throughout their child’s educational career. “We can make sure that these babies move on just like everybody else, and 12 years later I’ll be shaking their hands when they’re getting a high school diploma.”

The evening continued with graduates singing their hearts out, their sweet voices echoing the words of “Jesus Loves Me” (the remix) and “America the Beautiful.”

The graduates showcased “Our Day at Starling School” by answering bible trivia and quoting scriptures. Graduation speeches were even given, such as Kemiya Lasster who said, “Kindergarten here we come. We’re going to have lots of fun.” Rituals such as these have been practiced since the inception of the school in 1974.

Years ago, the late Jimmy Lee Sr. and Viola Starling moved to St. Petersburg from Cuthbert, Ga., trusting in God and maintaining a strong faith that they could start a family and life together here in the Sunshine City. After having six children, Viola embarked upon her dream of not just caring for her kids, but for providing a quality childcare program to all children in her community.

After completing Gibbs Jr. College, she decided to find a banker who would finance her dream. She walked and walked to most of the banks in downtown St. Pete and although rejected by five of them, her faith would not let her stop seeking her vision.

She eventually found a banker who believed in her, and in 1974 Starling School and Day Care was created on the foundation of Proverbs 22:6, which states: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That lesson is still being taught today to all the children they serve.

Throughout the decades, Starling grew to four locations in St. Pete educating thousands of youths. They continue to provide affordable childcare services for toddlers, preschool and school age children year round. They have been blessed to have continuous enrollment from former parents who are bringing their children back through Starling School.

Their mission is to provide a loving, learning environment with varied opportunities for educational, social, emotional and physical development for every child and student. They pride themselves on making better citizens for the entire community.

Whereas Jimmy Lee Sr. and Viola Starling have passed on, there is four generations of family members in the business today who continue to follow their vision and keep their legacy alive.

Starling School is open all year long with before and aftercare for school aged children. It also has summer programs and activities. For more information on how you can sign your kids up, go to starlingschool.org.

Starling School Class of 2015 Graduates:

Kiamora Black, Antonio Brown, Kreg Brown, III, Ceniah Bullard, Cedrittarius Burton, II, Deshanti Davis, Deon Dorsey, Jr., Douse Senya, Jaiden Edmondson, Kelcie Feaster, Imani Green, Thomas Godfrey, IV, Ahmir Harrington, Gionnah Hixon, Ladarian Huell, Devin Johnson, LaRon Jones, Kemiya Lasster, Oziyana Morton, Hakeem Nelson, Ladarius Roberts, Tarae Starling, Jaelyn Williams, Jamel Williams, Saniya Williams and Aubrelle Wright

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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