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St. Petersburg's Fairmount Elementary to be part of pilot education program

ST. PETERSBURG — Teachers at her son's high school used to call Linda Bell "that parent."

As in: "That parent who's so involved."

A new program announced Wednesday for one of Pinellas County's three F schools is designed to replicate parents like her.

Fairmount Elementary School will be part of the Childs Park pilot program, which will join multiple agencies to help at-risk kids and will require extensive parental involvement in return.

Bell's son is an adult now. But her two nephews, Sheldon, 7, and Keyshawn, 6, will be part of the new program. She has guardianship of the boys, who will be entering first grade.

"I can't wait to go home and tell my husband how involved they want parents to be," Bell, 49, said Wednesday after a parents' meeting. "I've got chills on my body."

Pinellas County schools, the city of St. Petersburg and the Juvenile Welfare Board are involved with the program, which was in the works before the school, at 575 41st St. S, dropped from a C to an F this year.

The F grade adds urgency to the project, said Valerie Brimm, director of Pinellas County Schools Strategic Partnerships. Only 42 percent of students tested at grade level in reading this year, down from 61 percent.

Childs Park, the neighborhood from where Fairmount draws its students, was picked because of its high poverty and unemployment. Most homes in the area are led by single mothers.

The goal is to help parents provide a good learning environment. The program will be like a mini-school within the school. One class each of pre-K, kindergarten, first grade and second grade will be part of the program. Additional grades will be added each year, and children will get college scholarships if they graduate from high school.

The goal is to staff each class with a teacher, teacher assistant, social worker and parental advocate, but the extra support isn't in place yet. Right now, one social worker will help families.

The program isn't costing anything additional yet because staff and resources were just realigned. Expanding the program will add costs, but organizers hope grant money will help.

The Fairmount project is modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, a project that covers about 100 blocks in New York City. A book about the Harlem project, Whatever It Takes, helped inspire Pinellas leaders, who learned of it as copies of the book were passed around as Christmas gifts.

The Harlem model has been reproduced in the Tampa Bay area already. Tampa's Sulphur Springs Elementary School brought its grade from an F to a B last year, though it dropped to a C this year.

"I know the parents that I've spoken to whose children are involved are very excited," Fairmount principal Cooper Dawson said.

St. Petersburg's Fairmount Elementary to be part of pilot education program 08/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 9:55am]

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