High achievers attain spotlight

Published May 21, 2007

DADE CITY - Arreasha McCray was a little nervous when she was called to the principal's office at Centinnial Middle School last week.

At first, the sixth-grader figured she was in some kind of trouble. Turns out, the principal had good news: Arreasha had been picked to accept a special award for earning all As and Bs.

What started as a scary moment left the young girl grinning.

On Saturday, more than 300 people crammed the cafeteria at Moore Mickens Education Center in Dade City to offer a collective pat-on-the-back to Arreasha and other top African-American students.

The awards program started three decades ago with a grass roots group called Citizens Concerned for Students, who were fed up with low scores and morale among African-American students in Pasco County. Members wanted to celebrate the high achievers.

And this year, there were a record number of them.

At the start, a gospel trio belted out a song. And folks bowed their heads for prayer. Then, the crowd rose for Lift Every Voice and Sing, commonly known as the black national anthem.

Organizers quickly got down to business.

They clutched a thick stack of certificates - one for each of the 900 African-American children who had made the honor roll in Pasco this school year.

One by one, middle and high school students walked up to the stage to grab their awards. Several school principals were on hand to offer congratulatory handshakes. Kids beamed with pride and parents lined the cafeteria walls holding camcorders.

But the highest honors went to the dozen African-American high school students who earned induction into the National Honor Society.

They each scored a giant trophy.

"One of the highest honors that you can receive in high school, besides your diploma, is induction into the National Honor Society," organizer Lorenzo Coffie told the crowd.

One parent, Andrew Donaldson, 41, had already decided on the perfect spot for his daughter, Chanel's trophy: the china cabinet.

Student Cheryl Edwards smiled and hugged her trophy when she paused to take a picture with her family.

"Our children need to be recognized," said Sonja Chinn, 41, whose son, Les Mumphry, was receiving an award.

James Chinn, 38, agreed.

"We always (talk about) when (youngsters) do something wrong, but we seldom praise them when they're doing something right," he said.

Each year, attendance at the event swells. Organizers, many with ties to the school system, compile a list of eligible students and then mail out invitations. Initially, only a few dozen folks showed up. But Saturday's event was standing room only.

Perhaps the larger numbers are because the county is growing rapidly, and more African-American families are choosing to call Pasco home.

Whatever the reason, organizers said they were thrilled with the turnout.

And, of course, Arreasha was there. She has managed to make the honor roll three semesters in a row.

When her name was called, the half dozen family members who accompanied her burst into applause.

Fast Facts:

Honors all around

Citizens Concerned for Students honored the following high school students for their induction into the National Honor Society:

Elyse Houston, Wiregrass Ranch High

Kelli Moss, Wiregrass Ranch High

Chanel Donaldson, Wiregrass Ranch High

Cheryl Edwards, Wiregrass Ranch High

Audrina Bigos, Wesley Chapel High

Starlett Hill, Wesley Chapel High

Clayton Hunter, Wesley Chapel High

Alex Massie, Wesley Chapel High

Naomi Perryman, Wesley Chapel High

Johora Ramotar, Wesley Chapel High

August Strowbridge, Wesley Chapel High

Nathalie Fish, Land O'Lakes High