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New campus is key to Midtown renaissance

St. Petersburg's mostly black Midtown community is on the move. In several neighborhoods, properties are being improved, and new construction is under way. One of the brightest spots is the establishment of the St. Petersburg College campus on 22nd Street S.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis and SPC president Carl Kuttler apparently know that if real, long-term progress is to come to Midtown, easy access to higher education is an important key, if not the anchor.

The new campus, which opened in September 2003 and has enrolled 83 students, has classrooms and offices in the St. Petersburg Housing Authority's Center for Achievement. It shares space with Partners in Self-Sufficiency and the YWCA's child care program.

"Part of the college's mission at SPC-Midtown is to provide educational and training opportunities to the residents of this vibrant community," provost Charles L. Roberts said. "It allows students to get a solid start on a college education at this convenient location and then move on toward the completion of a certificate or a degree."

Currently, as listed in the college catalog, the campus offers 14 courses, two in business technologies, five in communications (English and reading), six in mathematics and one in social and behavioral sciences. In March, a course in early childhood education will be added.

Several students are in the high school/college dual enrollment program, satisfying high school graduation requirements while earning credit in college courses. For these students, classes are scheduled in the late afternoon and early evening.

Although the courses at the Midtown campus are the standard ones required systemwide, Roberts said that a large part of the Midtown curriculum will be determined by the practical needs of the community. In February, for example, because of a large number of requests from residents, the campus will provide space for the Pinellas Technical Education Center to offer courses for beginning nursing assistants. These courses will put the students on track for earning the Certified Nursing Assistant and Home Health Aides licenses.

In another smart move, the college is forming a partnership with the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center being built on the site of the historic Mercy Hospital near the college.

"The college will partner with the University of Florida Dental School to provide a range of dental services, with the college being responsible for staffing the dental hygiene clinic," Roberts said.

Kuttler, Baker and Davis are realistic about the campus and its mission. Most of the students will come from the local neighborhoods, and many will be older adults who have been out of high school or have not taken college classes for many years. Because of theses students' special needs, many of the Midtown campus courses are remedial.

Angela Bolds, an adjunct math instructor who has taught algebra since last spring, describes her students: "Some are firefighters wanting to go back to school. I have people who want to advance in their particular careers, people wanting to change careers, older people just coming back go school. These people can be grandparents."

Like her colleagues, Bolds is a traditional lecturer, but she has adapted to the computer-assisted method at Midtown. "At this campus, you're more of a facilitator," she said. "The students have to do a lot on their own. When they're struggling with problems, I can take them one-on-one. For the most part, they're expected to go through this course self-paced."

Another math instructor, Kevin Haugabrook, said he has new respect for his nontraditional, older students: "The students really have to be disciplined to be productive in class. A lot of students are mothers and fathers. They've been out of school for a while, and they're getting back into it. They tend to be pretty focused. You can see that it's hard for them. Once you get older and start a family and work a full-time job, it takes longer to get yourself situated. I've actually gotten the parents of students I taught in middle school. It's really interesting to teach the parents of students you've had."

Angela Gaines, 29, is a typical Midtown student. She is a full-time licensed practical nurse at Suncoast Manor in St. Petersburg, and she has two children, ages 8 and 12. She is back in school to complete credits for the registered nursing program. Her goal is to earn the bachelor's degree in nursing. She likes the self-paced method.

"You come into your class and the professor asks if anyone has any questions or needs to review anything or homework," she said. "We basically work on the computer. We get a book and a CD. Our teacher doesn't teach on the board, but if you have any questions, he'll come to you individually and help.

"In a lecture course, what you get that day is it. You can't really take that with you or work ahead. With the course, I can take my CD and work in the library or at home. I recommend this campus to anyone who is self-starting. You have to be very disciplined, mature and serious. It's three minutes from my house."

Reginald Jackson, 28, is a data entry specialist for Professional Survey Inc. He said that as an African-American male, he has no choice but to attend college and that the Midtown campus was a godsend.

"I chose to come back to school because the work force is pretty hard out here right now," he said. "The wages are not good unless you have some kind of college degree. My mission is to better myself and better my family. I graduated from Pinellas Park High, and started SPJC, and I didn't take it seriously and dropped out. Well, I guess I've explored my youth. It didn't work out, and I'm back in school, married, five kids, different perspective, taking life and education much more seriously. This place is giving me a second chance."

Indeed, Midtown is on the move. The contribution of St. Petersburg College _ the learning it is providing for students such as Angela Gaines and Reginald Jackson _ is essential if the area is to become a real part of the "seamless city" that Baker and Davis are trying to create.

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