Dinner, dancing and FCAT encouragement

Pierce Middle School's spaghetti dinner attracts a large crowd for a meal and motivation.

By AMBER MOBLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008

TAMPA - The sheer size of the feat screams insanity.

But with three chefs, 100 pounds of pasta, 65 gallons of sauce and 1,100 made-from-scratch meatballs, Pierce Middle School principal Victor Fernandez planned to feed 1,000 people Thursday night at the school's 10th annual spaghetti dinner, an event to get students and parents informed and pumped up about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Last year's head count was 800. So, like years before, the staff at this predominately Hispanic Title I school hoped for more.

"The first year, it was very disappointing," Fernandez said. "Maybe 25 or 30 people came. In fact, I had many people asking me, 'Why are you doing this? You'll never get anyone.'"

But there are two things Fernandez deems his passions: students and cooking.

So for four days Fernandez and his staff, made sauce and meatballs. Thursday, they cooked pasta and fresh garlic bread.

"We make everything from scratch. It's not just go to Sam's," he said in a Spanish accent thicker than his spaghetti sauce. "I want the students to see that we are capable of doing whatever we put our minds to do."

It looked like their goal of 1,000 was met.

Student Flamenco dancers, the band, chorus and step teams performed. Radio station La Nueva 92.5-FMrepresentatives played hip-hop and reggaeton in the courtyard.

Shirley Correa ate slowly while waiting for 13-year-old son Andrew to pack up after playing with the band.

"It's a big deal for him and for me as well, the FCAT and sharing dinner with his mom, here at school," she said, smiling.

It was hard for seventh-grader Yovany Villarroel not to feel supported with his mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and neighbor taking up an entire table.

"We were trying to tell everybody in the neighborhood that they should come out to support the school," said his mother Delia Torres, a single mother of four.

"We've always come to this dinner," said sister Jennifer Viscarra. "This is not a bad school. The kids like him," pointing to Yovany, "who listen to their teachers and don't let anybody interrupt them, they get all A's."

Even with good grades, Yovany said he's a bit nervous about the FCAT. "But I have good teachers and it's just another test and I'm going to study hard like I always do."

He sat down to eat his spaghetti.

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