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Forum examines high school life

About 200 people turned out Tuesday night to discuss the state of high school in the 1990s. The forum, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, was organized in response to a seven-part series, "South of Heaven: A Year in the Life of a High School," by Times reporter Thomas French.

A nine-member panel, including French and several people featured in his report, answered questions about the series and the state of high school education.

Christine "YY" Younskevicius, a student on which French focused, described her version of an end-of-the-year toga scavenger hunt that French had written about.

She said she gave French permission to join her scavenger group, only if he would dress appropriately.

"That was the exchange," she said. "There he was, in a brown shirt, jeans and a plaid toga, scribbling away in his notebook."

French said the goal of the series was to explore why so many students in Florida drop out and why others do so well.

Judith Westfall, former Largo High principal and now an associate superintendent of schools, explained why the faculty let French into their classrooms.

"There was a very important story that educators have been trying to tell for a long time," she said. "We thought the article could be the vehicle to do that."

The audience shared concerns about the education system and concluded with a brainstorming session.

Most of the discussion centered on a lack of parental support and what can be done to improve it.

Some audience members called for better communication among teachers and students and a concerted community effort.

James Feazell, a Largo High teacher and member of the panel, said, "The kids are there, and a lot of them would do better if we just had more extended hands."