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Schools

School help not just for needy

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published April 30, 2007


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No matter how academically successful, every school has some families who can benefit from extra tutoring and counseling, child advocates say.

That's why the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board hopes to expand support services that it funds at the neediest campuses to every elementary and middle school in Pinellas.

"We have embraced the philosophy that all children will receive services over a three-year period, " said Trenia Cox, the board's planning director.

The Juvenile Welfare Board uses about $4-million yearly to reimburse private organizations that provide academic help and counseling to families at 47 elementary and middle schools.

But only nine - six elementary schools and three middle schools - are in North Pinellas.

It used to be more, but three years ago the Juvenile Welfare Board ranked all schools by looking at factors such FCAT scores, numbers of students on free or reduced-price lunches and suspensions.

It then funded the counseling and tutoring services at schools with the highest proportion of students who needed help. Most were in central and south Pinellas.

In North Pinellas, Oldsmar Elementary School, for example, lost a program called the "Pinellas School Support Team."

Through the program, staff from Children's Home Inc. had provided academic tutoring and counseling on behavioral problems and other issues to 20 families.

"The biggest piece of this program was the in-home counseling support, " said Debbie Manning, guidance counselor at Oldsmar Elementary. "It's really the family support that we lost."

Now the Juvenile Welfare Board's staff has recommended expanding the services to 60 additional schools. The board is scheduled to consider the recommendation in May.

But it's not a sure thing.

Some board members want to expand the programs to all schools, said Browning Spence, the board's deputy director. Others want to concentrate on the schools with the highest proportion of needy students.

And to expand the programs over three years, the Juvenile Welfare Board's staff members estimates that the board would have to find more than $3.5-million.

The new focus on all schools comes after a community council advocated for the programs at more of its schools.

The council advises the Juvenile Welfare Board and represents Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and unincorporated areas in between.

"There's not a ZIP code that you can say never needs anything, " said Carol Johnson, a parent from Countryside who is a member of the council's board.

Some North Pinellas schools "don't get any help from the state, " Johnson said. "All they are dependent on is what the Juvenile Welfare Board can give them for these programs."

The board uses property taxes to fund various programs for children.

The programs it seeks to expand are meant to supplement the state and federal funding that some schools get to help students who are struggling academically.

Through Kid Connections, for instance, a family specialist from Directions from Mental Health works daily at Skycrest Elementary School in Clearwater.

He helps children and their parents to fix misbehavior that may be the result of troubles at home.

"Our principal sees the program as an integral part of our success, " said Jennifer Flory, the school's guidance counselor.

Every corner of the county has families who need the services, say educators in North Pinellas.

"Maybe I don't have as high a free and reduced lunch population as others, " said Kerry Apuzzo, principal at Ozona Elementary School. "Because of that, I don't get a lot of support from other agencies. But I do have those kids here."

Her school once had the Pinellas School Support Team, Apuzzo said.

Now "we don't have the ability to go into the families' homes, " Apuzzo said. "It's a big void."

The programs are valuable because many families are trying to balance education for their kids with the other pressures of life, advocates say.

"I see a need for the programs because families are stressed out with the cost of living, " said Margaret Drizd, principal of Kings Highway Elementary. "Raising children takes a lot of energy and a lot of time."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or 727 445-4224.

[Last modified April 30, 2007, 06:25:24]


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