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Blake High blows its own horn

The combined traditional school and arts magnet celebrates a big birthday.

By JESSICA BRADY Times Staff Writer
Published September 14, 2007


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DOWNTOWN

TAMPA HEIGHTS - Howard W. Blake High School opened its doors in 1956, and became one of two black high schools in Tampa. It was a symbol of pride in the African-American community, and teachers urged students to pursue college or start their own businesses despite the racial turmoil of the day.

Desegregation forced the school to close in 1971, but community leaders later moved to revive Blake, considering it a part of Tampa's history.

It reopened in 1997 on North Boulevard, a few blocks from its original site on Spruce Street.

Now entering its 10th school year, the new Blake is celebrating a decade of achievements as a traditional high school and an arts magnet school.

Throughout the year, administrators plan to make aesthetic improvements to make Blake look more like an arts school. Students will design murals and, in January, a statue will be unveiled at a 10-year anniversary celebration.

And, faculty say, they will continue working hard to make Blake a place where students thrive.

* * *

Some believe the revived school has come a long way in keeping Blake's history alive.

"I remember the old Blake, so the new Blake is a real reformation in a kind of renewal of the whole Blake spirit itself," School Board member Doretha Edgecomb said. "It's a wonderful structure and a part of the community, especially since it's part of the performing and visual arts school."

Teresa Winston was one of the first art teachers hired when Blake reopened with its magnet program. Before coming to Blake, she taught at Gaither and Chamberlain high schools. Its first year open, Blake had neither a performance theater nor a senior class.

"In the beginning it was sort of nice because we had so few students that we teachers got to know all the students very well, so that was a plus," said Winston, now the fine arts coordinator. "That helped us preroute what direction we wanted the school to go in."

That direction included high academic standards and a state-of-the-art performance school.

* * *

Still, there are obstacles. Some have labeled Blake a "poor" school, Winston said, because more than 50 percent of Blake students are economically disadvantaged and because of its close proximity to subsidized housing.

And Blake received a D grade from the state for 2006-2007.

"The grade is really something we see as a bump in the road. We've added several new programs, so we just had to take a step back," said Van Ayres, assistant principal of curriculum for Blake's traditional program. "Our whole focus is that we want every student to attend college."

Already this year, Ayres said, more minority students have enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes. The school is also in its second year of AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program that prepares students with average grades for college.

Edgecomb believes the school is a positive for local students of all races today.

"I think a grade is only one part of the picture and I don't think people ought to define a school by a letter grade,"Edgecomb said.

* * *

To showcase the school's successes over the past decade, Winston is giving Blake a face-lift. The beautification project is designed to make Blake look more like a performing arts school.

How?

Winston has several plans in action. Currently, two seniors are painting murals in the cafeteria and student affairs office.

Amy Hilson, 17, has painted a large magnolia tree rooted with positive messages amid a blue background. The mural started as a small drawing in her sketch book.

"It's beautiful," said Antwaun Underwood, administrative assistant in student affairs. "I refer to the tree as being grounded in your roots. I tell students whatever seed you plant, you will reap a harvest from it."

In the cafeteria, a completely different mural covers a wall, easily visible to all the students as they eat lunch. Aileen Painter, 17, has compiled pictures of students at Blake and combined the images to create a universal student who represents the individuals. The mural will be finished in a month with only the student's face, hand and foot in focus; the rest will be blurred.

"People stereotype this school because of its location, so what the mural is saying is how people look at schools as one stereotype, instead of looking at the individuals," Painter said.

Both students volunteered for the project and initially paid for supplies out of their own pockets. So far, Painter says she has spent between $150 and $200 on supplies. But the students will be reimbursed for the costs and given additional money for their work, Ayres said.

Other projects in the works include a 10-foot steel sculpture to be placed in the courtyard, stained glass windows in the front office, sandblasted glass above the theater's box office and a $5,200 banner to replace an existing one that faces Interstate 4. Students will create all the work.

Winston requested a School Board grant to help pay for the banner, but was denied.

The current banner showcases the various fields of art Blake teaches. The new banner commemorates the 10th anniversary by featuring a woman blowing out 10 candles. Smoke from the candles morphs into music notes and dancers, among other things, to help brand Blake an art school.

Edgecomb was unable to comment on the grant, saying she was unaware Winston had applied for the money. She does, however, enjoy the banner when she drives into Tampa from I-4.

"I find it an interesting way to get news to the public. I think it's a way to showcase our students and the kinds of things they are doing," Edgecomb said.

* * *

On Jan. 25 Blake will have a 10-year anniversary celebration to unveil an abstract steel sculpture of a yellow jacket, the school's mascot, in the courtyard and to show off results of students' work.

"It's a simple way to support the students who are working hard to find their direction in life, and many of them have a great passion for what they are doing," Winston said. "So, the community can support these kids just by showing up."

Jessica Brady can be reached at jbrady@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3339.

[Last modified September 13, 2007, 07:46:13]


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