Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco school district honors students making a turnaround in school

SAN ANTONIO — Damarcus Hopkins and his reading teacher, Carmen Simpson, never expected their lives to intertwine so closely when they first crossed paths at Tampa's Wharton High School in 2005.

"I did not like teachers," said Damarcus, 19. "I disrespected them and I always had an opinion for everything they said."

Simpson recalled Damarcus as being so difficult that she decided to take a new job in Pasco County schools.

"I was so glad to be going to Pasco County. I was getting away from Damarcus," she said. "Damarcus was one of the biggest challenges for me."

She moved to Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel.

Unbeknownst to Simpson, so, too, did Damarcus.

Each was seeking a new start. They found it together.

Simpson saw the teen's appearance in her new classroom as a message from on high that she needed to do more for him. His family life had been tough, bouncing from home to home, relative to relative, with little stability except for his love of and excellence in art.

After refusing to listen or care, Damarcus got the message when Simpson cut to the chase: Shape up or face life on the outside, going nowhere with no one left to help.

"I started going to school. I started doing my work. I signed myself up for extra classes," he said. "I did not want to be a nobody."

He raised his grade point average from below 1.5 to above 3.0, and he's headed to International Academy of Design and Technology after graduation.

Damarcus nervously spoke of his new world view Tuesday afternoon at the school district's annual Project Turnaround award luncheon, winning hearty applause from the crowd of fellow students, teachers and parents who came to celebrate 31 kids who had changed their lives for the better.

The honored students ran the gamut from girls who dealt with the struggles of teen parenthood to boys who grappled with finding their way in new, big schools where they felt anonymous. Some just needed a little push to succeed, while others required a swift kick to get their acts together.

Antonio Rivera said he stopped trying hard in school and started making bad grades after moving this year from Bartels Middle School in Tampa to Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel. The transition to the 1,700-student school was rough for the soft-spoken eighth-grader who's mostly in gifted classes.

After a while, he said, "I talked to people and I made a friend. ... . It made it easier. I didn't feel lonely."

And his performance improved, to the relief of his mom and his teachers.

Nashyia Griffin, 15, said she needed to find some new friends if she wanted to get on the right path.

"I was just hanging around with friends and not thinking about my school work," she said of her freshman year at Mitchell High.

After moving to Anclote High this year, "I started hanging out with the right group of people. ... And I've been working pretty hard."

She and many of the honored students beamed as their teachers heaped praise on them for all their efforts to make it. In return, the youngsters returned the compliments.

Hudson High School senior Megan Lisco, holding her 2-year-old son Tanner, tearfully thanked her counselor and parents for helping her make it from a scared pregnant girl to the brink of graduation. "Thank you so much, everyone who stood by me," she said before choking up and walking off stage.

"My mom is probably the only reason I'm not failing my classes," said Michael McLaughlin, a River Ridge Middle School eighth-grader who used to get in trouble for fighting and acting out in class. "Also my teachers. They help me a lot too."

These successes make the difference to these educators, who bragged on their students so proudly. Just ask Carmen Simpson, who admits she nearly left teaching after giving up on Damarcus only to find renewal in his return to her classroom.

She said she felt rewarded in being able to see Damarcus mature into a motivated, determined leader. He taught her not to give up, as much as she taught him the same.

And for that, they both are grateful.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast facts

Making the most of another chance

Turnaround Achievement Award recipients for 2010

Dominic Pari, Bayonet Point Middle School

Cindy Artola, Centennial Middle School

Alisha Lane, Chasco Middle School

Samantha Foxworth, Crews Lake Middle School

Jamie Corbin, Gulf Middle School

Cole Hanssen, Hudson Middle School

Antonio Rivera, Long Middle School

Dalton Sawyer, Pasco Middle School

Jerry Ruiz, Pine View Middle School

Michael McLaughlin, River Ridge Middle School

Lauren Rowold, Rushe Middle School

Sarah McNulty, Seven Springs Middle School

Mark Parco, Smith Middle School

Kevin Capehart, Stewart Middle School

Matthew Rivera, Weightman Middle School

Nashyia Griffin, Anclote High School

Erick Hernandez, Gulf High School

Megan Lisco, Hudson High School

Amber Green, Land O'Lakes High School

Daniel Abbriano, Mitchell High School

Kayla Miller, Pasco High School

Brandyn Bohm, Ridgewood High School

Megan Dillingham, River Ridge High School

Anthony Mercado, Sunlake High School

Nicole Bostick, Wesley Chapel High School

Damarcus Hopkins, Wiregrass Ranch High School

Alisha Brown, Zephyrhills High School

Randy Halfacre, Irvin Education Center

Tasha Markey, Schwettman Education Center

Anelyse Montilla, Marchman Technical Education Center

Kaela Fields, Moore-Mickens Education Center

Pasco school district honors students making a turnaround in school 04/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 11:50am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

    Blogs

    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light

    Florida

    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling

    College

    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]