Monday, February 19, 2018
Education

Tampa Tribune scholarships inspire students to keep digging for facts

TAMPA

When the Tampa Tribune launched a scholarship for Hillsborough County's top high school seniors more than 50 years ago, no one could have guessed it would one day be turned over to the newspaper's rival, now called the Tampa Bay Times.

It was the scholarship's namesake, the late Tribune publisher Richard F. "Red" Pittman Jr., who sparked the newspapers' fierce, decades-long battle for Tampa readers. The Tribune ultimately lost, and the annual scholarship is now celebrated inside the Times' downtown Tampa offices. But son Richard A. Pittman said he was happy to work with his fathers' old rivals to keep the Tribune scholarship contest alive at a time when journalism itself is under attack.

"I think my father was hoping this scholarship would get students excited about digging for truth and fact, and reward them for being willing to stand up for their opinions by writing them in print," Pittman said during the scholarship reception this month. "Yes, it's a little weird that now it's the Tampa Bay Times continuing that tradition, but especially now, we need the Times and all print newspapers to survive."

When the Times bought and folded the Tribune last May, distributing the three $1,250 R.F. "Red" Pittman scholarships was the first task that surviving staff from both newspapers tackled together. This year's contest, the first under Times' auspices, maintained the scholarship's reputation for asking the tough questions on topics commonly avoided around dinner tables.

This year's applicants were asked to explain their views on the United States' "responsibility to the rest of the world versus its responsibility to its own people."

It was an essay that scholarship recipient Shaila Ghanekar actually looked forward to writing.

"It's weird because in the past year it seems kids are paying more attention to the news but they still distrust the news," said Ghanekar, who is graduating from private Berkeley Preparatory School.

"In our government class this semester we talked a lot about political bias in the media, but the more you doubt the credibility of news the more you look at it and the more you're exposed to different opinions."

Ansberto Vallejo, the Hillsborough school district's Supervisor for Career and Postsecondary Planning, said he was surprised to see how many students were willing to write an essay for the contest. This year's contest attracted more than 250 entries, representing more than half of the 400 students who earned eligibility by graduating with a GPA in the top 3 percent of their high school class.

Last year's applicant pool was much smaller, he said. Some students said they were nervous about answering the prompt, which asked for the criteria they would use when deciding how to vote in the presidential election. Others embraced it.

"I liked the challenge because all of the scholarship essays I had been writing were on topics like your upbringing or a personal struggle, but this question was something that everyone has a different opinion on," said scholarship winner and Hillsborough High School graduate Meghana Bhimreddy.

"I think my generation is growing up in a world that's so much more diverse than it's ever been and that forces you to adopt your own views and be able to explain them to people who have an extremely different life than your own," Bhimreddy said.

Second-time scholarship judge Stephen Lambert, the author and director of Hillsborough Community College's quality enhancement plan, said this year's essays showed that younger generations are paying attention to the news.

"I was struck by the quality of this year's entries," Lambert said. "They were not only well written but persuasive, so persuasive I began to re-examine my own ideas."

The ability to change a personal opinion when presented with facts is a skill that students, parents and teachers alike will have to exercise more frequently as more news agencies struggle to stay afloat, said scholarship recipient and Alonso High School graduate Darren Tran.

"No matter what you do, the most important thing you can do is tell the truth," Tran said. "Knowing that I can tell the truth through my writing and back up my opinions with facts gives me confidence that I have the potential to reach whatever goals I set for my future."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

 
Comments
50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

Ulysses Floyd remembers February 1968 all too well.Teachers by the thousands walked off their jobs across Florida. Among their concerns: low pay, poor funding, a lack of planning time, missing materials, and more. "We were at the mercy of the School ...
Published: 02/19/18
ROTC leader shocked that accused school shooter 1 of his own

ROTC leader shocked that accused school shooter 1 of his own

PARKLAND, Fla. — The sound of gunfire still ringing in his ears after his mad half-mile sprint, Jack Ciaramello was standing with friends in a grocery store parking lot when a sheriff’s deputy approached. He asked the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High se...
Published: 02/18/18
From meek to militant: The Florida teachers strike that unsettled a nation and fueled a movement

From meek to militant: The Florida teachers strike that unsettled a nation and fueled a movement

Some teachers left goodbye messages to their students on classroom blackboards. Others cleared their desks.It was Feb. 16, 1968, a Friday, and a sign of what was coming that Monday in Florida: the nation’s first statewide teachers strike.When schools...
Published: 02/18/18
Principal of a pained Stoneman Douglas High just sent a message to his students

Principal of a pained Stoneman Douglas High just sent a message to his students

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High principal Ty Thompson exuded deep emotion and a positive view forward in his first public comments since Wednesday’s mass shooting that killed 17 people.In the two-minute video posted on the school’s website and YouTube,...
Published: 02/18/18
Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

TAMPA — "Elevate," a Hillsborough County School District initiative that was to focus on seven troubled schools and use them as models for dozens more, is becoming but a memory as the district seeks instead to support all schools equally."We’re more ...
Published: 02/17/18
Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

TAMPA — Students at Plant High School honored the victims of the Parkland school shooting with a series of sidewalk chalk messages.The chalk art carried a series of messages such as "How many times?" and "Do something. Protect us." according to a Fac...
Published: 02/16/18
At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

While fielding calls from anxious parents after the Broward County high school shooting that claimed 17 lives, school officials in the Tampa Bay area took a close look Thursday at what they are doing to keep students safe.There are gates and locks an...
Published: 02/15/18
Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Assuming April Griffin follows through on her decision not to seek re-election to the Hillsborough County School Board, well, meetings just won’t be the same. Chances are they’ll just be filled with boring reports, proclamations and routine business....
Published: 02/15/18
‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

A St. Petersburg High teacher has retired in the middle of the school year after students said he called them "baby," "babe," "missy," "honey," "sweetie," "little girl" and ended one girl’s name with "-licious."The Pinellas County school district fou...
Published: 02/15/18
Interim principal says teamwork will lift long-struggling Moton Elementary

Interim principal says teamwork will lift long-struggling Moton Elementary

BROOKSVILLE — Less than a month after taking over as interim principal at long-struggling Moton Elementary School, Brent Gaustad says teamwork by educators across the district has things looking up.Behavior has improved, he said, and innovative proce...
Published: 02/15/18