Booker T. Washington Elementary School packed its halls with nearly 500 people at their Welcome Back to School Bash Wednesday, September 14, with an emphasis on food and fun for their students and families.
Principal Jamie Gerding said the event was not only to connect parents to the classroom, but also to, “build a school culture where we can all sit down and eat together and have a good time outside the classroom setting.”
The school, located near historic Ybor City, leveraged multiple community resources to make not only this event, but the education of the students a success. Booker T. Washington is an Elevate school, identified by the district to receive increased support to rapidly accelerate the success of their students.
During the course of the evening parents and students attended one of two classroom sessions to receive an armband allowing them into the festival-like cafeteria for free food and out to the playground where there were bouncy houses and carnival-like game stations. The purpose of the classroom sessions was to set expectations and procedures as well as to inform parents about how to best partner with the school for student success.
Third grade teacher Geornesia Moses, said the event was the perfect opportunity, “to make a face-to-face connection with the parents and let them know we are in this together and it is a partnership.”
In Moses’ classroom, the teachers were sharing school resources. Topics like the importance of not having a hungry student sitting in class trying to learn were discussed. Hillsborough County offers all students a free breakfast even if they arrive after the tardy bell. Teachers also shared with the parents how to read the student agendas and the best places to write notes to communicate with the teacher. Parents also provided insight as to what works best with their children.
Third grade student Simone Frances said she wanted her mother, Tolonda Culver, to see what goes on in her classrooms, “so she can ask me about science or math when I get home.”
Second grade parent Teresa Hamilton, sitting by her son Daqan, said, “if I can text him a question and he can text me back the answer, then he can read”. She pointed out the window towards the Robert W. Sanders Public Library where she said her son uses the computers to practice reading, math and science skills and checks out at least two books a week.
The second grade teachers were all excited to see a community-based resource being used with fidelity. Fifth grade teacher Sonia Coleman has developed an extensive partnership with the library and its staff over her years at the school. Students and teachers use the library as an extension of the school where they can check out books and nurture their literacy skills. There is a cultural heritage walkway between the school and the library where a yearly event is held each spring to learn about the emancipation of slaves in America in conjunction with a book fair designed to get culturally relevant books in the hands of the community.
Hamilton, whose son has attended Booker T. Washington since kindergarten, had nothing but praise for Gerding who was appointed principal last March. “I love her. She greets everybody with a smile. When there is a situation she handles it right then and there.”
Outside, students such as fifth-grade Khalil McRae were vigorously enjoying the inflatable fun houses. His mother Jessica McCrae said she was especially impressed with the music teacher’s demonstration of African Drums.
Behind the cafeteria, tucked away from all the crowds, Dana Hendree, Noel Byrd and Jim Wood sweated over a large grill belonging to Idlewild Baptist Church cooking hotdogs. The three church members were volunteers tonight, but each have either a child or grandchild in other Hillsborough County Public Schools. Idlewild provided funding for both the food and for the bouncy houses as part of their community outreach program.
Dream Center of Tampa set up a booth in the cafeteria. The Dream Center of Tampa is a nonprofit organization in East Tampa, originally founded 2010 by a senior pastor at Grace Family Church in Lutz, Florida. Their mission is to help youth and families develop resiliency, build character, and develop strong, supportive, and enduring community relationships, through offering enhanced family mentoring, after school care, computer access, homework help, and athletic programs.
According to Chris Davis, the executive director of the Dream Center of Tampa, their support to Booker T. Washington Elementary School included a summer camp targeted to get below level readers at or above grade level and currently serve about 50 Booker T. students a week. Davis said, “We were able to recruit nine new members and just as important five volunteers at the Back to School Bash.” Tampa Dream Center services are offered at a reduced cost to families as they receive funding through grants, foundations and individual donors who invest in the East Tampa community.
Adult and career services also set up shop in the cafeteria. They were able to meet with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings. The school district’s vision of Preparing Students for Life can apply to adult learners well.
Third grader Alexia Perry won one of several gift baskets that were given away in a drawing of tickets from students and parents who attended classroom sessions. Her smile lit up the room as did those of many other students proud to showcase their school for their parents.