With pep-rally zeal, students at Gibbs High filled both its gym and auditorium Wednesday morning to hear a motivational speech and get hyped about changing its culture.
Then the students and teachers broke up into separate focus groups for the rest of the school day.
With the guidance of nearly 100 Community Tampa Bay adult and student facilitators, including St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon, the students and teachers spent three hours dissecting how it can go from an F-rated school to a B-rated school.
Call it the mother of all high school dialogue sessions.
Principal Kevin Gordon convened the summit for his "Gibbs family" because he truly believes the school can meet what he calls the "200-point challenge."
By improving its FCAT test scores and upgrading other factors (graduation rates, completing AP and college entrance exams) that the state will use to determine its 2009-10 grade, Gibbs could gain the necessary 200 points to make the quantum leap.
As one of the volunteer facilitators, the morning proved fascinating. I listened to students speak about how they define their school, their teachers and themselves.
Their biggest concern involves how teachers treat them, and they had no shortage of suggestions. The students say they don't want to be judged by how they walk into the class and they don't want hear about teachers' personal problems.
They don't want to be yelled at and they don't want to be told they aren't graduating.
They want teachers to care about them as people.
Essentially, they want to be loved, a theme echoed by Richmond County, Ga., superintendent Dana Bedden, who kicked off the day with a powerful keynote speech that incorporated hip-hop music and clips from films such as Madea's Family Reunion.
"They may not remember what you teach them, but they will remember how you treat them," said Bedden, who grew up in St. Petersburg's Jordan Park and graduated from Osceola High School.
"You have to be in it for the outcome, not the income. Well, I know you're in it for the outcome because you don't make enough money to be in it for the income."
Yet Bedden also implored the students to be more accountable and insisted that they come to school with a love for learning.
The students also noted the need for better attitudes among their peers, while also listing suggestions for administrators, parents and the community.
The information gleaned from the students and teachers, who met in separate focus groups, will be gathered, and teacher-student groups will be formed to address the most critical issues. That's good, because the day will only be as effective as the followup.
Still, Gordon and Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen were wise to champion this effective, out-of-the-box approach. The students appeared engaged and appreciated the opportunity.
"I had fun and learned," said senior Shelby Shoon, 18. "The whole concept was more innovative than I thought it would be."
I'm rooting for the students to overcome the "F" stigma because these are largely good kids who deserve to be infused with hope and supported by the community.
If this historic community icon fails again, we all fail.
That's all I'm saying.