Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Civics textbook draws lesson from Mitchell High duo

M att Nuzzo and Jake Ponce de Leon have known for years that they would be leaving their mark on Pasco County. Just take a drive down Little Road, Mitchell Boulevard or around the campuses of Mitchell High and Seven Springs Middle School. You'll see bright yellow "Wildlife" and "Sandhill Crossing" signs that were installed after the two young men led a service learning project in Cindy Tehan's Lead the Pack class at Seven Springs Middle.

Now, as the 18-year-old seniors prepare to graduate, their efforts might leave a mark on the minds of others. The duo are featured in a textbook called Civics in Practice Integrated: Civics, Economics, and Geography for Florida (Holt McDougal) that will be distributed next school year to Pasco County middle schoolers.

Nuzzo and Ponce de Leon and their eighth-grade smiling mugs are featured on page 343 in a lesson on youth civic involvement called "Florida Students Take Citizen Action — Protecting Sandhill Cranes."

The cautionary signs were erected in 2008 after Nuzzo and Ponce de Leon lobbied state Sen. Mike Fasano, who met with them and other students about their concerns for the cranes that were being killed by cars as they sauntered along the roads. He helped them move to the next step, contacting county commissioners who were in charge of the county roads where the "Wildlife Area" signs were eventually placed. Seven Springs Middle administration ended up pitching in, installing a few "Sandhill Crane Crossing" signs on school grounds to alert parents dropping off their children.

"It's scary they're not afraid at all," Nuzzo said of the cranes that, because of their gray color, blend in with the pavement. Even with the threat of danger, the cranes won't stray from their young offspring. "The ones we have on campus are domesticated. We have about 1,100 kids here and we'll be changing classes and they'll be just walking right next to you."

The success of the community project earned the duo some local acclaim, sealed a budding friendship and sent them down the leadership path throughout the following years at Mitchell High.

"They are just such awesome, awesome kids," said Tehan. "They had the persistence and the desire to see something happen and the work ethic to go through with it."

Nuzzo, who works part time bagging groceries at Publix, took part in National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, swim team and the Interact Club. He also spent some time campaigning door to door for Fasano and state Rep. Richard Corcoran.

"It started out as a way to give back," Nuzzo said. "I couldn't believe that a state senator was so accessible. I called him about the cranes and he called us right back. He's the go-to guy for his constituents. I consider him a good friend and mentor."

"Matt is a good friend of ours," said Fasano, who will attend the Mitchell High commencement. "I think he sets an example for so many other young people. He and other students I've met — especially through Ms. Tehan and her class — are working to get other young people involved … you would like to see that in every part of the county; young people getting government's attention and your local officials' attention that there is a problem out there."

As for Ponce de Leon, well, he's Mitchell's senior class president and will deliver a speech at Friday's commencement.

"I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about that," he said.

Ponce de Leon also was a member of Teen Court, the Teen Leader Club at the James Gills YMCA, and was recently named "Mr. Mitchell."

It's a pretty good story, but definitely not the end for the two friends who will soon part ways to attend rival schools.

Ponce de Leon will attend Florida State University in Tallahassee with plans to major in business and minor in entrepreneurship. "After that, maybe I'll go to law school, maybe go into politics, whatever. I want to go as far up the ladder as I can."

Nuzzo will be off to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he plans to major in general and international business.

The sandhill crane project was a "gateway," Nuzzo said. "I'm confident that I wouldn't have been as involved in my community as I have. The big message there was it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, it just matters what your drives are and what you do with that. For awhile I've been focused on the small community. Now I'm interested in broadening that perspective."

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18