Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

In advance of RNC, Rampello students return to school early

TAMPA

The little boy picks up a graham cracker and takes a bite. He wrinkles his nose, puts it down. He doesn't even touch the cereal.

Breakfast isn't usually this much of a struggle, his mother explains, as she hands him a milk carton in the cafeteria of Sam Rampello Downtown Partnership School early Tuesday.

Josiah Duvert is nervous. It is his first day of school.

As other children and parents filter into classrooms, Peta Morrison, 35, does what she can to get Josiah ready — she tucks in the 5-year-old's shirt, reminds him of his teacher's name, encourages him to make friends.

She tells Josiah school will be fun, that once he gets to class he won't even notice she's gone.

"No," Josiah exclaims, wiping a thin milk mustache away with the back of his small hand. "I'm gonna miss you, momma."

For Josiah and about 750 other students at Rampello, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the school year started a week earlier than the rest of Hillsborough County this year.

That's because the school, located less than half a mile from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, will be closed the week of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 27-31.

"I think it's the best option we have for security purposes," said Corey Murphy, who sat with her 5-year-old daughter, McKenna, and husband, Joe. "I'm not going to stick my kindergartener on a school bus that's headed straight for the protest zone."

Parents will have the option of enrolling their children in a free day-care program run by Hillsborough County Schools at other facilities during regular school hours.

Some parents said the 10-day break will make the transition back to school easier and more gradual, for their kids, and also for them.

"I've had her with me almost every day for five years," said Joe Murphy. "I won't have my little buddy anymore."

Several parents stifled tears and commiserated over glazed doughnuts at the "Boo-Hoo Buffet," a spread in the school's hallway.

Principal Liz Uppercue said she was excited to see classrooms full again.

"It's been a really smooth first day back," she said, as a small blond kindergartener was led out of a classroom in tears.

"You always have a few criers," Uppercue said. "This year, I think she's our only one."

The little girl's name is Lula. Her mom, Angie Katz, is a teacher at Foster Elementary School.

"It's hard as a mom, but as a teacher, I know you just have to walk away," Katz said. "The first day of school is always going to be hard. But you just have to give them a hug and let them go."

Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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