Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Students are honored with Turnaround Award

“I’m really proud of myself,” said Turnaround Award winner Zeyla Aviles, 15, of John Long Middle School.


“I’m really proud of myself,” said Turnaround Award winner Zeyla Aviles, 15, of John Long Middle School.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Some of these kids have dealt with things most of us will only see on TV. They've been abandoned. Molested. Abused. Forgotten by parents in a haze of drugs. Some have fought learning disabilities or fierce shyness. They've been hurt and they've wallowed in rage. They've hung out with the wrong crowd. Some could think of years past and count on one hand how many days they went to school.

They were unmoored, floating off to a bleak horizon.

But something in all 29 of these children — who were recognized Thursday by Pasco County Project Turnaround — fought back. Something clicked deep inside, saying, "I am better than this," and they changed.

At a ceremony at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey, each student got a turn on stage. Every county middle, high and alternative school chose its winner for a Turnaround Achievement Award. Students were introduced by their mentor (a teacher or staff member from school). As the adults spoke, it was clear how much they loved their students.

"It's not the salary that keeps us here," said Travis DeWalt, a teacher and coach at Gulf High School, as he introduced his Turnaround Award recipient, Ladarious Jackson.

"This," DeWalt said, motioning to the kids, "is what it's about."

Each student up on stage could have given up. But now, because of their determination and the love and support of mentors, they have goals that they will reach. They've realized that they are smart.

A student who previously couldn't pass math now wants to major in it in college (and also, German). A girl who once mouthed off to teachers all the time is going to be in honors English next year. Another young woman made a huge change: she dropped her bad friends, lost 70 pounds, joined the volleyball team and participated in Odyssey of the Mind.

A young man in JROTC who used to take and deal drugs went to rehab, has been clean and focused and now wants to be a military officer. Many of these students already work — some 30 hours a week or more, in addition to school. A waiter. An auto mechanic. Electrician. One young woman said that whenever she feels like giving up, so she can be carefree again, she thinks of how far she has come and she just can't let that go.

Zeyla Aviles, 15 and now an eighth-grader at John Long Middle School, had something traumatic happen to her when she was in sixth grade. In seventh grade, she fell off her normal grid. She became a bully and didn't care about school.

"I was going through a lot," said Zeyla, who is petite and had her shiny hair tied with a bow. "I couldn't focus."

One of her teachers, Terri Hensley, took her in, and Zeyla (and her two younger sisters and their dog) lived with Hensley for a year before returning to live with their mother. Zeyla said it just got to a point where she said to herself, "I have to change."

She wiped tears from her face. Zeyla is now determined to become a doctor. To think of where she was and where she is now overwhelms her.

"I'm really proud of myself," she said, softly.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (813) 909-4609.

Bayonet Point MS, Corey Gray

Centennial MS, Chelsey Smith

Chasco MS, Amanda Bell

Gulf MS, Preston Kline

Hudson MS, Kaytlin Weeks

John Long MS, Zeyla Aviles

Pasco MS, Nikiya Woods

Pine View MS, Leoneli "Danny" Marteli

River Ridge MS, Rebecca Acuna

Charles S. Rushe MS, Rashaud Daniels

Seven Springs MS, Jessica Evans

Paul R. Smith MS, Karlie Geraci

Raymond B. Stewart MS, Kayla Ankers

Thomas E. Weightman MS, Patrick Larkin

James Irvin EC, Ariel Novas

H. Schwettman EC, Mike Majors

Marchman Technical EC, Daniel Artascos

Moore Mickens EC, Shane Heath

Gulf HS, Ladarious Jackson

Hudson HS, Steven Whitworth

Land O'Lakes HS, Christopher Rodriguez

J.W. Mitchell HS, Kenneth Korchak

Pasco HS, Ray Serrato

Ridgewood HS, Kindra Lehmann

River Ridge HS, Sarah Stall

Sunlake HS, Davion Samuels

Wesley Chapel HS, Raul Barrio

Wiregrass Ranch HS, Brittany Doxsey

Zephyrhills HS, Richard Carrico

2008 Turnaround Awards

Students are honored with Turnaround Award 05/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 5 things to do under $5: Where to see solar eclipse, Bucs training camp


    1 Solar eclipse: Turn around, bright eyes. Monday brings a total eclipse of the sun, and you'll need protective eyewear to see it. The bay area won't be plunged into darkness for a few minutes like the middle of the country, but with solar lenses you can see this rare event. The Museum of Science and Industry, …

    This photo shows a “diamond ring” shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. For the 2017 eclipse over the United States, the National Science Foundation-funded movie project nicknamed Citizen CATE will have more than 200 volunteers trained and given special small telescopes and tripods to observe the sun at 68 locations in the exact same way.
  2. Florida man has some of Princess Di's wedding cake, plus 13,000 other royal items (w/photos)

    Human Interest

    John Hoatson recalls the day it all began with perfect clarity.

    John Hoatson poses with a photo taken in 2006 when he met Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, the Duchess of York, for tea at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California.
  3. Pasco doubles tourist tax to finance sports complex


    DADE CITY — Pasco County is doubling its tourist tax to 4 percent to build an indoor sports complex in Wesley Chapel and improve its outdoor boat ramps in west Pasco.

    Pasco County's plan to double its tourist tax on overnight accommodations to 4 percent is intended to help finance a $25 million sports complex in the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel. It  would include a 98,000-quare-foot multipurpose gymnaisium of eight basketball courts and dedicated space for gymnastics, cheerleading and a fitness center. Shown here is the four-court fieldhouse with 50,000-square-feet of space for competitions at  Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.  Times photo by James Borchuck (2007)
  4. Les Miller on Charlottesville: 'This is not what we should about'


    TAMPA -- In the aftermath of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., and ahead of today's continued conversation on Tampa's Confederate monument, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller on Wednesday looked to inspire unity in an invocation that a colleague called "inspirational."

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller prayed for unity during Wednesday's Hillsborough County Commission meeting, following the violent protests in Charlottesville that left 19 injured and one dead.
  5. Here's what Florida's gubernatorial contenders say about removing Confederate monuments from public lands


    Gwen Graham: "Our state's role in the Civil War and the deplorable promotion of slavery still cause deep pain today. We all have a responsibility to combat racism and hate wherever it …

    Protesters climb the Confederate Memorial in Tampa on Sunday night after more than 200 people marched down the streets of downtown Tampa to protest white supremacy. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Hillsborough Flaggers plan are standing guard now to protect the statute.