Thursday, August 16, 2018
Education

One-size-fits all graduation process suits Hillsborough students fine

TAMPA

It was hot and dusty and dizzyingly crowded. The smell of Italian sausages and Axe body spray hung heavy in the stagnant, humid air.

Navigating the Florida State Fairgrounds parking lot after Sickles High School's graduation Wednesday afternoon was not for the faint of heart. Families searched for graduates in the throng while fairground employees rushed to get them outside the expansive Expo Hall so staff could set up for the next ceremony two hours later.

In all, it will take 11 days and 27 ceremonies to graduate 12,351 students from Hillsborough County's public high schools. The ceremonies are held back to back, three or four each day in the Expo Hall, leaving just enough time between events to add or subtract seats, change the lighting to reflect the next school's colors, and empty the parking lots to make way for the next crowd.

It's the annual graduation shuffle, running through June 11.

But students and parents alike said Wednesday there are more pros than cons to the continuous series of ceremonies at the fairgrounds. For one thing, there's plenty of room for large families, lots of parking, and an air conditioned venue protected from seasonal rains.

That's why many school districts across the state have switched to large venues like the University of South Florida Sun Dome, Tropicana Field or the Amway Center to hold their ceremonies.

Traipsing across the expansive parking lot seems like a fair trade for the chance to invite everyone who wants to come to your graduation, said recent Sickles High graduate Brooke Dupre.

"It's nice and big and there's lots of room for our families," said Dupre, 18. "Graduating at the fairgrounds has become kind of a tradition for us."

In Orange County, eight days of public high school graduations are held at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando and the CFE Federal Credit Union Arena on the University of Central Florida campus, said chief of high schools Harold Border. For Pasco County, the bulk of graduation ceremonies are held in Tampa at the USF Sun Dome. In Pinellas, ceremonies take place in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater.

Hillsborough County hasn't always had a "one-size-fits-all" approach to graduations, said school district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Years ago, the ceremonies were held on school football fields.

In the past few decades, however, Hillsborough's graduations have been held at the fairgrounds, in the Sun Dome and at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Competing event schedules eventually became too difficult to navigate at Amalie Arena, especially if the Tampa Bay Lightning were in the playoffs, Arja said. When the Sun Dome underwent renovations in 2011, the school district switched to the fairgrounds exclusively and never went back.

The fairgrounds offered a better deal, she said.

Not to mention some of the attractions of the fairgrounds, like sausage carts and flower booths.

Still, some students like Sickles High graduating senior Michael Huchro say they would like to experience some of the tradition that comes with an old-fashioned high school graduation on the school football field.

"I think it would be cool to have it at the school itself, it's where we started and where we should finish," Huchro said.

Tarpon Springs High School is the only school in Pinellas County and one of few in the state to hold graduations on the football field. Walking across Sponger field, diploma in hand, has been a tradition at the school since it was built in the 1960s, said principal Leza Fatolitis.

"We have generous support from the residents of Tarpon Springs – the community, alumni, current families – and students graduating want to share their day with the community and keep the tradition alive," said Fatolitis, who graduated on Sponger Field 25 years ago. "Having it off campus would limit that, and moving forward I think we'll continue the tradition."

There are drawbacks, though. Fatolitis could recall two instances where graduations were rained out, and moving the ceremony inside the school auditorium requires limiting attendance to the approximately 3,000 tickets distributed to students every year. On the football field, though, guests are admitted with or without a ticket.

Hillsborough County schools has a year-to-year contract with the fairgrounds, but the district reviews its other options every year with an eye toward such factors as days available and shelter from heat and rain.

"Some of the advantages to having it in one location are it's set up the entire time for graduation, it's centrally located for most families because it's close to the interstate and it's easy to remember where graduation is because it's always there," Arja said. "I don't know if a school could accommodate that many people."

The fairgrounds also provide plenty of floor or lower-level seating for those with disabilities, even though they will have a long walk back to their cars.

The hike and the crowds didn't bother Richard Weimer, 81, who traveled to Tampa from Springfield, Ohio, to see his granddaughter, Sophie Blaskovich, graduate.

"I've been there her whole life, I remember holding her as a baby," Weimer said, choking back tears. "This is a special moment."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 546-6611.

 
Comments
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco schools don’t plan to move teachers over state scores

Florida school districts recently received their teachers’ state "value-added" scores, and some scrambled to reassign those who got poor marks out of schools in turnaround status.But Pasco County wasn’t one of them, despite state rules relating to pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Hillsborough schools will begin disclosing more data about lead in drinking water

Hillsborough schools will begin disclosing more data about lead in drinking water

TAMPA ­­— The Hillsborough County School District will begin publicly disclosing all locations where it finds lead in schools’ water, not just the samples that tested highest, an official said Tuesday.Detailed results from the testing lab could begin...
Published: 08/14/18