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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251

Email: miller@tampabay.com

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  1. Students, staff, parents celebrate opening of two new schools in Pasco

    K12

    After months of anticipation, Pasco County's two newest schools made their debuts Monday to largely rave reviews.

    Both Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel and Bexley Elementary School in Land O'Lakes rose to ease crowding at nearby schools, where subdivision growth pushed the student populations beyond capacity.

    Even with the new schools' arrival, other campuses continued to grow, with overall district enrollment expected to increase by 1,600 children — largely along the State Road 54 corridor....

    Bryce Navarro, left, a junior at Cypress Creek High School, helps fellow student Michae’la Davis and her mother, Valarie White, with the registration process Monday, the first day of classes.
  2. Altered Minds gives like-minded artists an opportunity to create

    Visual Arts

    NEW PORT RICHEY

    For members of the Altered Minds mixed media art group, a monthly gathering with those who share a flair for coloring outside the lines is fuel for creation.

    "They are all nuts," fabric artist Edda Juhl, 75, said with a chuckle as she waited her turn at the craft of making marble-painted paper. "They all have a different outlook on life, and they are not afraid to try new things."...

    Margaret McLoy, 59, right, shows Ellen DeIntinis, 64, center, and Ronnie Dewa, 45, left, how to make marbled paper.
  3. Back to school: What you need to know in Pasco

    K12

    Registering your child for 2017-18

    All students must attend the school in the zone where their parents or legal guardians reside unless they have an approved assignment to another school or program (e.g., School Choice). For information on what school your child will attend and other back-to-school information, visit pasco.k12.fl.us/back_to_school. Note: Some schools register students on different days and times. Contact the school for specific information....

    Keeping vaccines up to date is a key way families can get ready for the 2017-18 school year, which starts in early August. [Times files]
  4. Paddleboarding becomes newest challenge for Pasco Special Olympians

    Human Interest

    NEW PORT RICHEY

    It was midmorning at the floating docks by Sims Park, and Mark Miller, in bright-colored swim trunks and with a life vest bearing his name, sat on a paddleboard, ready to launch.

    But first came a few words of encouragement from his dad, along with some guidance on what was about to happen.

    "Okay, we're going to push you off now," Robert Miller told his son as he knelt on the dock beside him. "Then, you've got to stand up....

    Danielle Parise works on holding steady. “I like it. It’s fun,” said Parise, 27, who was competing for the first time in the sport. “I fall off all the time and I get back on again.” [MICHELE MILLER   |   Times]
  5. Pasco libraries offer relief from the heat with reading programs, activities

    Kids

    HOLIDAY — Angelina Ponzo has a goal this summer: to read as many books as possible.

    So each week her mom, Alexis Ponzo, brings Angelina, 9, and her younger brother Giovanni, 6, to Centennial Park Library, where she checks out her favorite reads — mostly something she hasn't already consumed in the Magic Tree House book series.

    "I like to come here to pick out books to read at home," said Angelina as her mom drew a red watercolor heart tattoo on her arm during a special event last week....

    Alexis Ponzo, left, uses watercolor crayons to draw a heart on her daughter Angelina’s arm during a recent summer reading program event at Centennial Park Library in Holiday.
  6. Nonprofit group promises family fun at Saturday event in Dade City

    Kids

    DADE CITY — Family-friendly competitions and a lot of other fun. That's what's in store at Color Me Abstract's Family Field Day, which will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village.

    The event will feature a lot of outdoor fun along the lines of traditional field days often held in the waning days of the school year, said Junise Belizaire, 32. She and her husband, Handy, also 32, founded Color Me Abstract, a nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate "meaningful relationships and growth in communities by creating platforms for civic duty, education and charitable contributions."...

  7. 42nd Street Big Band seeks new location for concerts

    News

    NEW PORT RICHEY — For the past four years, the 42nd Street Big Band was a monthly staple at Richey Suncoast Theatre in downtown New Port Richey. The band's concerts, at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, brought out enthusiasts yearning for the sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.

    After capping off the season with a tribute to legendary ladies Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney, the band's gig has come to an end because of scheduling issues at the theater. The group is seeking a new venue for its big band sound....

    The 42nd Street Band performs with entertainer Andy Stefano.
  8. 'Hard wake-up call' gets Pasco High grad back on track

    K12

    DADE CITY

    Go back a year or so, and the odds were pretty much against Leah Walton graduating high school on time.

    "She was a hot little mess — skipping classes, not doing her work," said Pasco High School career resource specialist Mignon Edwards.

    Walton was a bright, articulate kid with lots of potential "just floating off into the abyss," according to Sharon Swonger, her 10th-grade English teacher....

    Leah Walton, 18, is Pasco High School’s 2017 turnaround student. She will graduate tonight, which once was in doubt.
  9. Bumps and bruises just a small part of Revolution Derby League

    Human Interest

    PORT RICHEY

    They arrive wearing spandex and team shirts with names meant to intimidate emblazoned on the back — "Michete," "Meowch," "Scarlet Scourge" and "Helga Hufflepunch" to name a few.

    In bare feet they work through a series of walking lunges, jumping jacks, sprints and holding planks while their taskmaster and coach, Keri Santiago, 39, a.k.a. "Diamond Cutz," keeps tabs, whistle in hand....

    Members of Mom and Pop Militia, a coed roller derby team, skate during a pace line exercise recently at the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast in Tarpon Springs. A pace line improves footwork, endurance and communication.
  10. Motto for 90-year-old Hudson artist: 'Keep moving'

    Human Interest

    NEW PORT RICHEY

    On a Thursday morning, in a classroom studio at the West Pasco Art Guild, Betty Mitchell worked brown clay into a fantastical beast.

    The snout wasn't to her liking.

    "Too piglike," she said as she squared the beast's nose. "The hard part about clay is that you just about get it where you want it, and you make one false move, and forget it."

    Clay can be an unforgiving medium, but Mitchell was undaunted. At age 90 on this Mother's Day, that's how she rolls. Always has....

    Betty Mitchell shows some of the ceramic and cloth sculptures she has created that are on display in her Hudson home. “Her house is like an art museum,” said her son, Butch Mitchell, 69, of Ohio.
[MICHELE MILLER   |   Times]
  11. Threat of disputed sinkhole closes Palace Grand in Spring Hill

    Business

    SPRING HILL — The Palace Grand, a local venue for corporate and social events, as well as one-night shows, has been temporarily shut down. And that has led to some frantic coordinating on the part of the owners, who have to find new venues for some events because the property has been deemed unsafe.

    That's according to a bright-red notice posted on the front entrance, alongside an accompanying note from the Marasciullo family — the venue owners — notifying visitors that the Palace Grand, off U.S. 19 at 275 Della Court, will be temporarily closed for public safety reasons due to a disputed sinkhole claim. Also posted is a sinkhole report composed by Structural Engineering and Inspections Inc. that is included in the body of a letter addressed to attorney Larry Bache of Tampa....

    A notice posted on the front entrance of the Palace Grand in Spring Hill deems the property unsafe. The venue will be closed temporarily due to a disputed sinkhole.
  12. River Ridge robotics team shines at national championship

    K12

    NEW PORT RICHEY — For the past two years, the River Ridge High School Royal Robotics team has fought its way to a berth in a prestigious national robotics competition.

    That's a pretty impressive feat for a team that's winding up its second season after making it to the semifinals and earning the Creativity Award in the 2017 FIRST Championship in April in Houston.

    The 21 members of the Royal Robotics team were among some 1,500 students to compete in Houston. Another championship bout was held later in the month in St. Louis. Winners of the two events will face off at the Festival of Champions in July in Manchester, N.H., where FIRST originated....

    John Schneider, 17, pilots the robot during the FIRST Robotics Championships in Houston.
  13. In competition, young entrepreneurs put their creative minds to work

    K12

    NEW PORT RICHEY — For Taylor Townsend, it was time to take her shot — five minutes to pitch an idea along the lines of the television show Shark Tank.

    "How many of you have children?" Townsend, 17, asked the panel of three judges in the school media center.

    Then came a horrific laundry list of facts about children who have died of hyperthermia while left strapped into car seats in hot cars....

    Timothy Hernandez, Zephyrhills High
  14. Cotee River Seafest promises three days of food, fun and music

    Events

    NEW PORT RICHEY — It will be boats, blues and more as the Cotee River Seafest takes place this weekend in Sims Park.

    The annual festival, presented by Main Street New Port Richey and Auto Enterprise, will feature three days of free music starting at 5 p.m. Friday with local favorites SPF 40, Barefoot Bob and the Hope and Sean Chambers on the Sims Park stage.

    Saturday comes with a full lineup, with six bands playing back to back starting at noon with Franc Robert, followed by Troy Youngblood & the Soulfish, Tampa Music Machine with Nitro, Sarasota Slim with LC Williams and the Driver, Albert Castiglia and multirecording artist Eric Gales....

    Tampa blues guitarist Selwyn Birchwood will perform at the Cotee River Seafest this weekend in Sims Park. He’s shown here at the 2015 Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa.
  15. Gallery's April exhibit gives a nod to spring

    Visual Arts

    NEW PORT RICHEY

    The West Pasco Art Guild and Gallery is giving a nod to spring while preparing to wind down its seasonal shows with the exhibit "How Does Your Garden Grow?" this month.

    "We're really impressed with the showings for this exhibit," said guild board member Chuck Simmons, who headed the April exhibit with fellow artist Marilyn Wescott. "Most of our submissions are from local artists, and we have some faithful snowbirds as well."...

    Hollyhocks by local artist Carol Spicuglia is part of the “How Does Your Garden Grow?” exhibit.