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New Lealman school brings fresh attitudes

The old building made learning harder for kids who were already having difficulties. This one makes school exciting.

Published February 8, 2006

LEALMAN - Children frolic in the lunch area after a morning of grueling Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test activities, glad to get a little fresh air and talk with friends.

It's something that would have been impossible at Lealman Intermediate School's old digs.

More than six months into their new building, 4800 28th St. N, teachers have been surprised by the boost in student morale compared to last year. Lealman principal Cheryl DiCicco said she has been amazed with the boost in staff morale as well.

"It was a real second-class environment," said DiCicco, an educator for 31 years, who came to Lealman two years ago as principal. "It's like night and day. This is a real school."

Some said they could hardly say that about their former situation.

Teachers tell stories of rats running across classroom floors during lessons. Students tell stories of walking in the rain to go between classes. That has all stopped with the new building, they said.

About noon in Laura Hunter's class, students were scrambling to figure out as many words as they can that begin with the letter A while using the letters in "Fabulous February." Some shouted out numbers when asked how many they came up with.

52. 30. 44. 53.

Then Hunter threw a curve ball.

Make a sentence using your words starting with the same letter, she said.

One student raised his hand.

"Buffalo . . . buys . . . beef," was part of the sentence.

Too many E's in beef, she said. The group started over.

But they were having fun learning. It's something Hunter, too, enjoyed.

"Because of the new environment, they're having more buy-in to what they're doing," she said on the students' new-found willingness to be more active.

The new environment, compounded with the students' new attitudes, has encouraged her as well.

"When it got real bad in 1996, it was difficult to teach in (the old building)," said Hunter, who has been teaching at the school for 19 years. "For me, this is like a dream come true."

Student Daniel Askew, 13, who remembers the old building before the school was moved to the 50 portables on 35th Street, said people had to deal with respiratory ailments. He said the new building's inclusion is the biggest advantage.

"We have all our equipment in the new building," the eighth-grader said.

Seventh-grader Jenna Holland, 13, likes the amenities found in the new building.

"I don't think anybody else has a dance room," she said. "We've got a better school than anyone else."

Students must meet certain requirements to attend Lealman, DiCicco said: They have failed a grade, are failing more than two classes, have been absent more than 15 days in the school year, or scored a 1 or 2 on the FCAT.

Guidance counselors from the students' respective schools come to Lealman, then go back with recommendations for those who may be better suited with the attention there. Lealman serves as an academic intervention to get them back on the right path, DiCicco said.

"Our kids need services they're not getting in other areas," said Darrell Kretz, the school's technology specialist. "They come here with their little attitudes, but you see them grow to focusing on graduating high school."

Daniel said he appreciates the fact that he gets more help at Lealman than he would at his neighborhood school. Leaving Lealman, and its intimate environment, at the end of this school year worried him.

"They give us one-on-one action here," he said. "Sometimes I'm afraid of going to high school because I won't get the same help there."

Lealman offers extensive student services support, which includes an on-site social worker and psychologist.

"A lot of them come here with social issues, so they're not ready to learn," DiCicco said. "We work through other problems to get them ready to concentrate in the classrooms. Here, they don't get lost in the crowd."

Marlon A. Walker can be reached at 727 893-8737 or

[Last modified February 8, 2006, 01:15:22]

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