ST. PETERSBURG – Hundreds of families were greeted in prayer as they accompanied their children to school Wed., Sept. 30 at Melrose Elementary School, 1752 13th Ave. S, for the Million Father March (MFM).
The MFM is an opportunity for men to show their commitment to the educational lives of their children on the first day of school and throughout the school year. The march is the beginning of a yearlong commitment by men to their children’s educational success.
Since the march began in 2004, fathers and other significant male caregivers across the country have been asked to take their children to their first day of school. Locally, the Parent Support for Education Council (PSFEC) decided to hold their march last week.
Geared towards fathers, any family member or caring adult was asked to sign a pledge committing to help their children attain the highest level of academic performance and positive social success.
“What better way to help in light of the issues that have happened in Pinellas County with these elementary schools; what better way to show our solidarity and support for the ‘L5’ schools then to have this,” said Rev. Dr. Robert L. Harrison, who is a member of PSFEC, NAACP, SCLC and a chaplain for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
The L5 refers to Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose Elementary Schools that the Pinellas County School Board has turned into what the Tampa Bay Times calls “failure factories.”
In 2007 the school district voted to abandon integration by stopping busing and instituting a “neighborhood schools” policy that amounted to de facto segregation. In the years since, children in these schools have been failing in alarming rates. The Times article pointed out that one L5 school that had an “A” rating is now the second worst elementary school in the entire state of Florida.
As the school board scrambles to answer questions and fix a systemic problem that dates back almost a century, PSFEC has partnered with Melrose Elementary in an effort to increase parent/family, church and community engagement by 100 percent within three to five years.
If the school board will not do anything to improve these schools then parents must take their children’s education into their own hands and be their child’s number one advocate.
The community showed their support for PSFEC by being present at the march, which convened at 7 a.m. Pastors from churches all over the city, members of the NAACP, SCLC, Juvenile Welfare Board and Men of Today, Yesterday and the Future were all present.
Police Chief Anthony Holloway, School Board member Rene Flowers and Adrienne Conwell from DJJ were also front and center greeting and encouraging parents.
As parents stood in line to hand in their forms pledging to commit to their children’s future, students were given the opportunity to pick out a book that they would like their parents to read to them before heading to class.
Parents were then invited into the library for a hardy breakfast of sausage, biscuits and gravy, eggs, home fries and bacon.
Principal Nanette Grasso was impressed with the turnout and support from the community. She praised PSFEC for their commitment to Melrose.
“This group has met many times leading up to today trying to make this a great eventful day and figuring how we can continue to have relationships and meet with parents and have parents coming into the school and making them feel comfortable. We are about working together,” said Grasso.
President of PSFEC, Pastor Martin Rainey, explained that anyone living in the geographical area of Fifth Avenue South to 18th Avenue South and from 16th Street South to 28th Street South is in the Melrose community. He then took it a step further and called those residents the Melrose Community Family.
“That’s all of us in here. If you have a child, grandchild, friend or if you live in the geographical area, you are a member of the family,” remarked Rainey who went on to say that the reason they were there was increase parent and family engagement by 100 percent at Melrose.
“We are not worried about nobody else right now. We’re not selfish, but when you’re going to eat an elephant you eat it one bite at a time,” he said.
Rainey explained that this is the first activity of many that he and PSFEC have planned under the direction of Grasso. Their plan is to have the family and the school work together, which in turn will improve the academic level and decrease disciplinary actions.
PSFEC wants to increase the fellowship between the school, the classroom teacher and the parent.
“I want every man, every mother and everyone in the family: grandmamma, big mama, little mama, auntie, uncle and anybody else that love these children to get to know the names of the teachers and find out their birthday and send them a birthday card,” said Rainey. “The teacher has got to know you, and you have to know the teacher.”
The MFM came a week before the annual International Walk to School Day where 13 St. Petersburg elementary schools participated. Please share your photos of you and your children walking to school by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit PSFEC.org to become a member and help a child succeed.