Between attending classes at St. Petersburg College and busing tables part-time, 20-year-old Zamarie Johnson will lead a new parent teacher association serving all South St. Petersburg schools.
While most PTAs are partnered with a school, the newly inaugurated Southside St. Petersburg Community PTA aims to increase community involvement for all elementary, middle and high schools in the area. Its executive board and a membership that numbers a few dozen so far include local officials, religious leaders and concerned parents.
The group's first public meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S.
"We wanted to get more community buy-in for all of the schools," said Pinellas County Council PTA president Jessica Summers.
Summers drew support from the city of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Education Foundation to start the community PTA. The foundation has agreed to fund some startup costs.
"We wondered how can we create something where the community feels like they can support the school, if not help them build the PTA within the schools," said Leah McRae, the city's director of education and community engagement. "How can we pull in different stakeholders, whether or not they have a child in the school?"
McRae met Johnson while he was touring City Hall on a field trip for his American government class at SPC. She noticed Johnson's helpful attitude and curiosity about government affairs and invited him to the chapter's initiation in November.
"We wanted to have someone who was useful and could represent the perspective of a student from those schools," said McRae, who was elected vice president that night. "He has such natural leadership skills that it seemed obvious to everyone in the room that he was the right person to lead the PTA. He just took over the room."
Pastor Martin Rainey from First Memorial Missionary Baptist Church was the first to nominate Johnson for president. Others supported Rainey's motion.
"We need to have young people with enthusiasm and commitment and he seems to demonstrate it in the two minutes I was in the room with him," Rainey said.
Johnson, who does not have children of his own, was a student a few years ago in the very schools he was elected to represent. Born and raised in St. Petersburg as the oldest of five children, he went to several elementary schools, including Lakewood Elementary, before attending the privately operated Academy Prep for middle school. He graduating from the AVID program at Lakewood High. He is currently working toward an associate's degree and plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in business administration.
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"Growing up, I knew my mom was working. … She had a busy schedule as well, but she was very involved in my education," Johnson said.
"She didn't make excuses, she got it done. She found a way to be involved."
When his mother couldn't carve out time, Johnson's father did.
Johnson's involvement with the new PTA is personal: He has a sister who will start kindergarten next year and a brother who will enter middle school.
"I see a difference from when I was in elementary and middle school. Kids have to deal with a lot today," he said. "We just want to bridge that gap between the parents and the school, period."
Contact Colleen Wright at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.