City and school officials share resources at "Parent University" for success in school
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09/16/11 Andrea Lypka
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St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Dr. Shelley Stewart.


photo by Andrea Lypka

Not all students have the same community resources needed to succeed in school. Last weekend on the campus of University of South Florida St. Petersburg, community groups held what they called a Parent University to provide resources for parents and young students.

Dr. Shelley Stewart is the Founder and Board President of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a national non-profit created in honor of his mother that helps reduce the dropout rate nationwide. He was born in the segregated South and says that his first mentor, a first grade teacher, encouraged him to stay in school. Because of that, Stewart says he overcame abandonment, child abuse, poverty and homelessness to encourage people to stay in school.

“It starts with relationships at the early stage in life and those relationships have to go continuously,” Stewart said.

If educators, parents and the whole community are committed to educate children, many of them would become accomplished adults, he said. In documentary InsideOut, Stewart explores the consequences of dropping out of school. The common threads among the film’s subjects: they all dropped out from school and they all ended up in prison cells.

“Where would I be and what would I be doing and what kind of impact in society if I would have chosen to remain in school to get the proper education that my parent was encouraging me to get?” asks one inmate in InsideOut. “If you don’t have an education, chances are that you will end up at a place just like this or worse. On a death row or dead.”

Stewart says that the lack of education creates a border between the political power, the educated electorate and the rest.

“If you take politics and education and put it on the same table, education is going out of the window... Many politicians don’t want an intelligent electorate voter because they would lose the dominance and the control,” he said.

St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton says that it is all about relationships in the community. He is involved in education programs in his Midtown district, such as mentoring Job Corps students and students in the Summer Youth Work Readiness Program. He teaches youth about job readiness, life skills, college preparation, and career choices.

“I truly believe that if we can get a good education and train our children as the bible says we should and they way they should go, they will have a fruitful life and they can fully realize their full potential,” Newton said.

Two years ago the city was about to cut funding for some after school programs. But since then, thanks to a new partnership with the Juvenile Welfare Board, these programs still exist.

“They do have funds there. We have a new partnership with JWP and the City of St. Petersburg. They are matching with a half a million the half of million (dollars) we are putting up so we have a million dollars now to put tutors in each of our rec centers and also provide tutoring and mentorship for kids in rec centers and we can provide 20 jobs for students in those rec centers. All of that came from that partnership,” he said.

Parent Kelly Debure attended the event with her daughter, Alexandra, a student at Perkins Elementary School.

“I think that the relationships she has made at her school with her teachers in her classroom and with the teachers who focus on the arts have made her so motivated to be at school and to participate in all the events that revolve around the school. It helped us as a family to become more involved in the school and in her education. It seems like we are always at Perkins, helping out in her classroom or helping in some of the events that take place on weekends,” Debure said.

Organizer Stephanie Joyner, the director of middle school education for Pinellas County Schools, says that the goal of this event is to help parents and guardians successfully navigate those years between kindergarten and college.

“We wanted them to know what help is available in school and in the community. And we wanted them to know how to navigate the system. That’s what our sessions are all about. It’s really about how to navigate the system and how to make it work for you and your children. We are all about the students. We believe in 100 percent success for students and together we can do it,” she said.

For more information about the foundation and to see a segment from the movie Inside Out visit mattiecstewart.org. To learn more about the mentorship program, visit http://www.stpete.org/mentors/

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