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Students go from troubled to terrific

The Turnaround Achievement Awards showcase kids who overcame obstacles to get on a positive path.

By LOGAN MABE
Published April 24, 2004

TAMPA - Julia Cobb Barnes was in a reminiscent mood Friday, talking about Carmen Olmeda-Masso, the teenage girl who had become her star student at Young Middle School.

"Every morning she was like the president of the breakfast club because she was in the in-school suspension class before it even opened," said Barnes, describing Carmen as one of the most obnoxious and hard-headed girls she'd ever known.

And for a decade, Barnes taught school in prison.

"During sixth grade I was the most loud, profane, disrespectful, rude young woman," Carmen admitted. But things changed when Carmen met Barnes, who runs the school district's Connect-A-Kid program, a mentoring and dropout prevention program.

Clutching her gleaming Turnaround Achievement Award plaque, Carmen thanked Barnes for giving her life new direction. "Now I'm a new person with a new vision," the eighth-grader said. "Now I have a future."

Carmen's story was just one of 70 similar accounts of scholastic redemption Thursday night and Friday morning at the Turnaround Achievement Awards for high school and middle school students.

The awards, now in their 18th year, showcase students who have overcome long, often daunting odds to get their lives on a successful track.

Case in point: Hillsborough sheriff's deputy Ken Turner. Turner was a Turnaround Achievement Award winner in 1987, the very first year they were held. Now newly married and successful in his law enforcement career, Turner was a middle school misfit and all-around troublemaker before he won his plaque that year.

Today, he's a member of the department's SWAT team and the vice squad's canine unit.

"Cherish the problems in your life," Turner told the middle school students at his Friday morning keynote address. "Because they make you who you are."

Or consider sheriff's Maj. Elaine White, commander of the Orient Road jail, who grew up in a family of migrant farm workers but managed to earn a scholarship to Florida State University. While attending Haines City High School in Polk County, White saw a future that included "hooking up with a man, living in the Auburndale mobile home park and having some kids. That was it."

Only when a teacher told her, "You can control your own destiny with an education," did she see a way out.

"I struggled through a migrant farm. I struggled through high school. I struggled through college," White said. "But I made it."

Some of the students winning this year's awards have been down harrowing roads just as rocky.

Kids like Armwood High senior John Keasler, whose drug-addicted parents left him a legacy of heroin and hypodermic needles. By the age of 15, Keasler was living under an overpass, "looking for a fix," he said. Now, he's on a college track.

Or King High School's Paul Beach, whose freshman year was marked by an in-class arrest for possession of marijuana. After completing a residential rehab program, Beach got involved with the school's culinary arts team, which just won first place in a statewide competition.

Then there was Jarrod Earle of Riverview High, whose all-F freshman year left him with a perfect 0.0 grade point average. Four years later, he carries a strong B average and takes honors courses.

"I've overcome a lot of obstacles, like being a drug addict," Earle said. "I want to thank everyone who believed in me. This is the first plaque that I've ever gotten that meant something."

Anne Chatfield, supervisor of reading in the district's dropout prevention program, said the key to each student's turnaround was finding a connection with someone, anyone who could get past their rough exterior and touch them in a place that was not yet hardened or hurt.

"Most of the time, it's a connection with a caring adult," Chatfield said. "We live for these moments. It's why we're in this profession, to make a difference."

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabe@sptimes.com

TURNAROUND ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WINNERS

HIGH SCHOOL

ALONSO: Kimberly Yoder

ARMWOOD: John Keasler

BLAKE: Jeremy Black

BLOOMINGDALE: Lee Richardson

BRANDON: Yvenson Bernard

CHAMBERLAIN: Lawrence Wayne Curry

DURANT: Arturo Garcia

D.W. WATERS CAREER CENTER: James Foster Jr.

EAST BAY: Ciara Davis

EAST COUNTY CAREER CENTER: Andrea Garret

FREEDOM: Claude E. Pierre-Charles

GAITHER: Richard Jackson

HILLSBOROUGH: Jessica L. Robinson

JEFFERSON: Octavio Rodriguez

KING: Paul Beach

LETO: Samantha Hecksher EAST HENRY ACADEMY: Gregory Jackson

MIDDLETON: Erieal Davis

NEWSOME: Nicole Reneau PLANT CITY: Melissa Brunty RIVERVIEW: Jarrod Earle

ROBINSON: Latrese Epps

SICKLES: Vladimir Colon

SOUTH COUNTY CAREER CENTER: Timothy Allen Frederick

TAMPA BAY TECHNICAL: Quawanica Anderson

WHARTON: Lourdes Arroyo

YOUTH SERVICES PROGRAM: Robinson Roena MIDDLE SCHOOL

ADAMS: Kearstan Sanders

BENITO: Tiffany Gibbons

BUCHANAN: Jerome Evans

BURNETT: Ashley Nicole Mings

BURNS: Ladasia Brown

COLEMAN: Zaquana McKay

DAVIDSEN: Alexandra Nicole Curry

DOWDELL: Emmanuel Eustache EISENHOWER: Charles Hogenson FARNELL: Juan Broughton

FERRELL: Nikko Conroy

FRANKLIN: Nkechi C. Ibekwe GRECO: Keevia Wilson

HILL: Tevin Drayton

JENNINGS: Brandon Hamage LIBERTY: Tavaris A. Smith

MADISON: Michelle Martin

MANN: Joshua Seth Knezinek MARSHALL: Whittney S. Smith

MARTINEZ: Linda Perocier McLANE: Tiara Henry

MEMORIAL: Sharese Jackson

MONROE: Pedro McCobb

MULRENNAN: Marty Rice

ORANGE GROVE: Nicholas I. Gonzalez

PIERCE: Corinne Simon

PLANT CITY EXCEPTIONAL CENTER: Blake Grooms

PROGRESS VILLAGE: Adriana Gordon

RANDALL: Jacklynn Fawley

RODGERS: Tina Fulkinson

ROLAND PARK: Jassmin Thompson

SLIGH MIDDLE: Miracle Harrell

STEWART: Lashawnda Robinson

DOROTHY THOMAS EXCEPTIONAL CENTER: Michelle Miranda

TOMLIN: Courtney Allen

TURKEY CREEK: Sarah Payne

VAN BUREN: Ariel Gainey

WALKER: Avery James

WEBB: Jamie Amos

WILSON: Telane Garcia

WILLIAMS: Ebony Jenkins

YOUNG: Carmen Olmeda-Masso

YOUTH SERVICES PROGRAM: Angelina Slashiewski - Source: Hillsborough County School District

[Last modified April 24, 2004, 01:35:38]


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