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    Kids rally in support of good care

    About 400 kids hold up signs at the Pinellas County Courthouse as Children's Week approaches. Banners they made will travel to Tallahassee.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- Jeremy Smith, an eighth-grader at Seminole Middle School, is a poster boy for student achievement. He's National Junior Honor Society vice president and a member of the multicultural awareness club, yearbook staff, morning announcement team and drama club.

    The dean's list student said he owes his success to eight years of quality child care.

    "They really motivated you and let you know what you're good at and what you can improve on, and they do it very respectfully," he said.

    Smith, 14, shared his story Thursday at the Children's Week Rally at the Pinellas County Courthouse with children's advocates and kids from community child care programs. The goal of the event was to promote awareness of child care and before- and after-school education programs.

    Children's Week actually begins Monday. That's when children's advocates visit Tallahassee and lobby legislators on children and family issues.

    Florida Children's Week has been celebrated for 15 years, but Jack Levine, president of the Center for Florida's Children, said this year is crucial because it's an election year.

    And the need is greater than ever because of the sagging economy and recent budget cutbacks, he said.

    "When the economy softens, that's when families need help the most," he said.

    In past years the focus of Children's Week was on Tallahassee events, but this year the focus has been on local events statewide to create more momentum for children's issues.

    At the rally, about 400 kids sat on the courthouse steps waving signs saying, "Children Today, Leaders Tomorrow." They also showed off banners featuring construction paper, glitter and paint-dipped handprints.

    Their creations will be hung along with the handprints of other children from throughout the state in the Capitol rotunda in Tallahassee during Children's Week.

    Most parents couldn't make the afternoon rally, but they voiced their opinions by signing legislative petitions urging accessible quality child care.

    "No more cuts. We need additions. Here's proof right here," said Alan Marinkovich, a teacher at a local child care center, pointing to the kids. "It's limitless what they can achieve; but they need a strong foundation, and the only way we can do that is to continue to have quality child care."

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