Nationwide and in Florida, we celebrate our public schools

First Book event in Bay County
FEA Vice President Andrew Spar reads to students during a First Book event at a Bay County school.

Public Schools Week 2020, Feb. 24-28, celebrates our nation’s public schools, our students and the many school professionals who work to help students achieve their greatest potential. A broad group of 10 million parents and educators will mark the week with events and outreach to their communities. In Washington, D.C., a bipartisan group of lawmakers will speak on the importance of a strong public education system as the bedrock of our democracy and for our country’s future economic strength.

In Florida, teachers and education staff professionals will be wearing Red4Ed, calling on legislators to fund public education, and celebrating our schools on social media — #FundOurFutureFL, #PublicSchoolProud, #4EveryStudent.

Please show your support for students, educators and schools by taking the Pledge for Public Schools at www.publicschoolproud.org.

To learn more about the importance and mission of Public Schools Week, check out the video here.

In Florida

What’s good in our public schools?

More than we can ever say. Florida’s public schools serve about 2.8 million students and welcome every child — regardless of ability, race, wealth, language, sexual orientation, country of origin or needs. That’s a lot of opportunity for great stories.

Statewide officials like to tout notable student test scores and statistics — which for Florida are made even more impressive by the fact that our state ranks among the bottom 10 nationally for public education funding and in pay for teachers and education staff professionals.

Despite that lack of support, Florida’s students compare well with kids in other states on well-regarded federal tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Our graduation rate stands at an impressive 86.9 percent.

Let’s pause for a moment to give a shout-out to the people behind those successes — Florida’s teachers and education staff professionals. (We can’t help but think what they could achieve for our students if schools were adequately funded.)

In districts and schools throughout this state, magic happens in our classrooms every day. Here’s a quick look at recent “ground level” good news from our schools.

There are academic wins all over.

Alachua County alone has scored a string of newsworthy successes in the past few months. While the statewide graduation rate stands at 86.9 percent, Newberry High School is the county’s first school to achieve a whopping 100 percent graduation rate. Meanwhile, a Gainesville High senior with dyslexia earned the “Top of the World” score on the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), a rigorous English language curriculum meant to prepare students for honors study.

For another Alachua student, an academic honor comes with prize money. Each year almost 2,000 students around the county enter the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which bills themselves as the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition. Those entries are whittled down to the top 40 students who each receive $25,000. One of the 40 finalists competing for the grand prize attends Buchholz High School in Gainesville. The grand prize winner will be announced March 10 and will receive $250,000.

On the arts front, the chorus of Leon County’s Hartsfield Elementary, a Title I school with a 100-percent poverty rate, will soon be on stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

In Pasco County, three seniors at Krinn Technical High will send their research project about bacteria to the International Space Station

There is ongoing innovation.

Our educators continually strive to offer new opportunities for learning and find new ways to connect with students. We shape our outreach to fit the children we teach.

Districts take learning opportunities to their students, with an elementary-grades book bus rolling in Lake County and a physics bus in Seminole County.

Given that healthy students are better equipped to learn, Manatee County recently opened its first school-based health clinic.

An Okaloosa County high school meets kids where they’re at, by establishing a program to teach students about competitive bass fishing.

Beyond academics, there is much kindness in our public schools.

When Puerto Rican children were displaced by an earthquake this year, they were greeted with open arms in districts such as Volusia, where schools took in 33 students. In Pinellas County, about 200 students at Jacobsen Technical High recently built 40 bunk beds for needy kids. Pasco County’s Gulf Middle School offers kids free clothes, school suppliesand other items, while Care Closets offer toiletries at no charge to students in Baker County. Schools in counties such as Leon have established food pantries to address hunger among students and in their communities.

There is also much kindness shown to our students and schools.

When disaster strikes, as it did in Bay County with Hurricane Michael, we see the love pour forth in donations and the labor of volunteers. But large-scale tragedy is by no means a prerequisite for good deeds.

Media attention on the fact that some kids’ families struggle to pay for school lunches spurred caring individuals to take action. Donors paid school lunch debt for local students in several counties, including Brevard, Indian River and Polk.

In Miami-Dade County, a donor stepped up in a big way for the arts. Rapper Ludacris donated $75,000 in musical instruments to Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High in advance of the 2020 Super Bowl.

In conjunction with FEA, First Book annually gives away thousands of books to children in districts throughout the state.

Of course, some of the best news about Florida’s public schools is never reported, but remains in the hearts and minds of students, parents, educators.

We love our public schools.  

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