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School embraces kids who fall through the cracks

Published May 30, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - When Faith Smith and Gayle Cooper founded Brighton Preparatory School in 1985, the teachers wanted to provide an alternative for struggling students.

"It was for the kids that fall through the cracks, children that were not doing real well in a big school-type setting, " Smith said.

To ensure that students would get one-on-one attention to help them succeed at their own pace, Smith and Cooper set the maximum enrollment at 30 students - a number that has remained constant over the years.

The school is a little hard to see at its Central Avenue address, but for many of the parents who send kids there it is a hidden gem, a place that finds solutions to some tough problems for kids.

Students are divided into classrooms for Grades 1 to 3, 4 and 5 and 6 through 8. "Our concept was the one-room schoolhouse, " Smith said.

Smith and Cooper decided that structure, discipline and a low student-to-teacher ratio were the keys to assisting struggling students. "We think that is what works, " Smith said.

Students find their way to Brighton for a variety of reasons. Some are dealing with socialization issues like shyness; others got behind in their schoolwork because of illness. Some have learning disabilities that have affected their ability to keep up in a traditional school setting.

Andrea Walls enrolled her son Derek last year, after 3 1/2 years at Azalea Elementary. The 9-year-old, who has reading and expressive language difficulties, was held back after kindergarten.

Despite a lot of support from the public school system, Derek could not keep up and was in jeopardy of being held back a second time, Walls said. His self-confidence low, Derek began to withdraw, she said.

After less than a year at Brighton, Derek's grades are up, Walls said. "His confidence level is soaring. He's understanding more, because when he raises his hand he gets immediate attention, " Walls said.

Walls said the school is just what Derek needed. "It gave us hope. It almost feels like Derek's dreams will come true for him."

Kathie Breakiron researched several schools before choosing Brighton for her daughter Morgan, who has an auditory processing disorder.

"She had been written off as different, " Breakiron said. "We were just desperate to find a place that would fit for her."

Morgan, 11, has thrived at the small school, consistently making the honor roll, Breakiron said. "The teachers are also so wonderful. They're structured and know how far they can push the kids, but they're also just so loving, " Breakiron said.

The school is housed at Gateway Christian Center on Central Avenue, but is not a religious school. Though many students have some sort of learning disability, Brighton is not designed to handle students with behavioral problems or physical handicaps, said co-founder Smith.

Physical education classes are held at the Jim and Heather Gills YMCA, and the school has partnerships with local organizations for lessons in tennis, sailing and other activities. "Even though the school is small, they do everything and more, " said Tom Cook.

Cook's daughter, Victoria, came to Brighton from Shorecrest Preparatory School when she started to fall behind in her work after absences caused by medical problems.

Victoria, 10, said the slower pace has helped her stay on track. "At Brighton, they set aside time and they teach me everything I need to be taught, " she said.

"This should be a first choice for anyone that wants a quality education for their child, " Tom Cook said. "It's a well-kept secret."

Fast Facts:

School of solutions

Brighton Preparatory School is at Gateway Christian Center, 4355 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. The school serves students in Grades 1 through 8 and is accredited through the National Independent Private Schools Association. The 2007-08 school year has openings.

Tuition: $6, 900 per year, plus a $100 registration fee.

Information: Call 327-1454 or visit


[Last modified May 30, 2007, 07:16:53]

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