tampabay.com

Clubs groom pupils outlook

By AMBER MOBLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published September 17, 2007


TAMPA - Don't call them boys and girls.

On Wednesday, 62 at-risk students at Just Elementary School are scheduled to become gentlemen and ladies.

And it all begins with a dress shirt and embroidered tie for the gents and bright blue stoles for the ladies.

School officials are asking the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to dress up weekly for "Gentlemen's Club" and "Ladies' Club" meetings to help them learn about etiquette, community involvement and the larger world around them.

Later in the year, the students will eat at a five-star restaurant. They'll go on cultural outings to museums and galleries. They'll attend sporting events.

"We want to open their eyes to stuff outside of the projects here," said Keith Simsic, the Gentlemen's Club facilitator and a second-grade teacher at Just Elementary, a high-poverty school on W Spruce Street.

Children can't become what they can't see, said guidance counselor Lynette Henry.

"My hope is that they'll begin to dream," Henry said.

A majority of the students selected struggle with academics and behavior. Others are borderline. All "have good leadership potential," said Just behavior specialist Elizabeth Burdick.

It's a great alternative to helping males - especially blacks and Latinos - perform stronger, said Gwen Luney, assistant superintendent. "Historically, if there is a crack to fall through, they will fall through that crack," she said.

Clubs creator Stephen G. Peters, a motivational speaker, author and former educator, is the founder of the Peters Group, a South Carolina-based organization that sponsors Gentlemen's and Ladies' clubs at more than 100 schools around the nation.

Of the 25 students in the first Gentlemen's Club, 18 graduated from college, Peters said. "And that wasn't our target at first. It was to make sure we were ...finding ways to make them productive in our schools."

Students earn points each week for wearing their uniforms, turning in progress reports and demonstrating good behavior.

The program's successes in cities such as Chicago is what sold Just principal Tricia McManus on it. But can a necktie really connect a kid to a better future?

"It starts with a more positive self-image and that directly impacts the decisions they make," Peters said.

"Nobody rises to low expectations. So those facilitating our program operate on high expectations regardless of where (the children) live and their socio-economic status."

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Fast facts

Want to help?

Just Elementary School, 1315 W Spruce St., will induct 62 students into the Hillsborough school district's first Gentlemen's Club and Ladies' Club at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the school's cafeteria.

- Are you a successful person with a story? Just Elementary is looking for speakers for its Gentlemen's and Ladies' clubs. Contact Just guidance counselor Lynette Henry at lynette.henry@sdhc.k12.fl.us or (813) 276-5708 ext. 227.

Just Elementary School, 1315 W Spruce St., will induct 62 students into the Hillsborough school district's first Gentlemen's Club and Ladies' Club at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the school's cafeteria.

Are you a successful person with a story? Just Elementary is looking for speakers for its Gentlemen's and Ladies' clubs. Contact Just guidance counselor Lynette Henry at lynette.henry@sdhc.k12.fl.us or (813) 276-5708 ext. 227. The clubs also are in need of volunteer community support, such as a golf course on which the students can play golf, a five-star restaurant where they can apply etiquette techniques and a dry cleaning service willing to process the clubs' ties, shirts and stoles weekly. Contact Henry to volunteer services.