Education

Education is the key in moving our community and improving the quality of life.

The high-school graduation rate is one of the best indicators of a community’s economic prospects. When companies explore moving to a community, one of the first things they look up is the graduation rate. Our graduation rate is holding the area back. In Escambia County, just 64 percent of our high-schoolers walk away with a diploma. For black students, it’s 51 percent. These numbers are some of the lowest rates in the state.
The state average is 75.6 percent overall. 1 in 3 Escambia County students didn’t graduate last year.

The impact of generational poverty on the community’s economic and educational prospects is reflected in measures such as the free- and reduced-price lunch rate — which in Escambia County is 62 percent.

The Florida Office of Early Learning says on average 33 percent of Escambia 5-year- olds are not ready for kindergarten. Often those children come from poor families.

Education

UWF trustees back Judy Bense

The University of West Florida Board of Trustees gave their full-throated support of President Judy Bense today, passing a resolution in support of her tenure as she faced criticism from the faculty senate. “I don’t think this is too personal,” Bense said after the board meeting. “I think it’s a sign of terrible frustration and often they’ll take it out on the boss. I understand that. “It comes with the job,” she said. “It is frustrating times. I don’t like it, but I don’t like the times, either. The times have got to get better and we’ve all got to pull in the same direction. What I appreciate is that our Board of Trustees understands that we are all in a difficult economic time and we are trying to make it better. I appreciate their support very much.” On Friday, the faculty senate voted no-confidence in Bense, citing a decline in academic standards, a lack of focus on the educational business of the university and salary concerns. On Sept. 9, the trustees gave Bense her annual evaluation, where eight of 11 trustees gave her and A or B. Read Bense’s eval here. Lewis Bear Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees, said he thought Monday’s meeting was important to show the community that Bense has the board’s support. “With the 17-person vote, the community might seem to think that was representative of the entire faculty,” Bear said after the meeting. “We thought is was very important that we let the community know that we are in full support of our president. And in the resolution we spelled out the many reasons why we are in support of her successes.” The resolution, which you can read here, praises Bense for national designations the university has received in her tenure for leading performance in civic engagement and military friendliness; the university’s economic influence on the Pensacola metro area; seeing UWF named to lead the Complete Florida and Florida Virtual campus initiatives; achievements of university’s student athletes; and increases in research and fundraising, all in trying economic times. Faculty concerns aired That seemed of little comfort to the faculty who crowded into the meeting room in Building 12 to voice their displeasure at what they see as an erosion of academic standards and commitment to staff for the sake of external projects and football. William Belko, an associate professor in the history department, took the lead in the public comment period, telling the trustees he felt they were unaware of the reasons behind the faculty senate’s vote. The concerns Belko raised touched on student-faculty ratio, salary compression, lowered academic standards and the development of projects and partnerships away from the academic world. These include UWF’s Business Enterprises Inc., a private entity created to find new revenue for the university through real estate and other development projects, and the creation of a football team. Belko said what he sees as an institutional failure to support faculty under Bense could “ultimately undermine the health of UWF.” He cited the pursuit of a “flawed” admissions policy that accepted students who were not academically prepared for college for the sake of increasing enrollment (and by extension increased money coming into the university). Read full story

Education

CoderDojo Pensacola honors new ninjas

NEWS RELEASE — CoderDojo Pensacola on Sept. 11 awarded seven “ninja students” USB white belt wristbands at an awards ceremony at University of West Florida Innovation Institute. The ninjas were awarded belts for attending five classes and demonstrating the ability to program their own interactive stories and animations. The CoderDojo initiative is part of the Innovation Institute’s efforts to engage students in immersive science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, experiences. By involving them in STEM education early on, the Institute hopes to build a solid pipeline from elementary to college and prepare them for future careers in high demand fields, such as IT and cybersecurity. Ranging in age from 6 to 11 years old, the ninjas learned how to code using Scratch, a programming language designed by the MIT Media Lab. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively, which are essential 21stcentury skills in the progressive fields of IT and cybersecurity. The USB belts, which are worn as wristbands, contain memory chips at the open and closure part of the band. The size of the internal memory chip depends on the belt color, which is used as a rank marker. Courtesy of Beck Property Management, the eight belt series begins with a two gigabyte white belt and progresses up to a 32 gigabyte black belt. With four more classes offered this year, and new classes beginning in January 2015, ninjas are offered numerous opportunities to code and earn belts. “UWF Innovation Institute, with the support of our community partners, including Silver Bullet Technology, Beck Property Management, AppRiver and GBSI, are proud to support these young achievers and congratulate their recent accomplishments,” said Dr. Pam Northrup, executive director of UWF Innovation Institute. CoderDojo is an open source, volunteer-led movement that establishes free, non-profit coding clubs and sessions for elementary, middle and high school students. To date, there are more than 480 clubs in 48 countries. Pensacola’s dojo is the first in northern Florida with other clubs in Tampa and Miami. For additional information about the global CoderDojo movement, visit coderdojo.com. CoderDojo programming classes are held at the Innovation Institute, located at 321 N. DeVilliers St. in downtown Pensacola, on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month. For local information, including a class tutorial walk through, visitcoderdojopcola.wordpress.com. To register for classes, visit the CoderDojo Pensacola Facebook,www.facebook.com/coderdojopensacola. Classes are limited to 20 students and are open for registration after each class is completed. To learn more about CoderDojo Pensacola, contactpensacola.us@coderdojo.com. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

UWF trustees plan emergency meeting Monday

An emergency meeting of the University of West Florida Board of Trustees has been called for Monday morning. The board will discuss a “resolution of support” for President Judy Bense, according to the agenda. WEAR-TV reports that the faculty senate at the university gave Bense a “no-confidence” vote. Bense has been the president since mid-2008. But based on agenda documents from the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, the board seems satisfied with the job Bense is doing. The posted agenda from the Sept. 9 Board of Trustees meeting indicates 11 members completed an evaluation form on Bense. Three gave her an A; five gave her a B; three gave her a C. Of the additional comments given, most were positive and supportive, while acknowledging that retention and graduation rates at the school lag among state universities. Bense earned her highest grades in community engagement and service, where seven of 11 trustees gave her an A. You can see the evaluation here. Last year the Florida university system’s Board of Governors ranked the state’s 11 universities on a series of performance metrics. UWF scored 21 out of 50 points, putting it last. Schools that score less than 25 points are penalized by having 1 percent of their recurring state funding taken away. Read here about what Bense said her strategies would be to improve the school’s showing in these metrics, especially the six-year graduation rate and the retention of sophomores with a 2.0 GPA or better. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Building a trail of learning in Pensacola

A child’s early years lay the foundation for all that is to come later in life. In an ideal world, all children would enter school ready and able to learn. Unfortunately, far too many children start school unprepared and unable to ever catch up.  That’s one of the reasons why the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County locally sponsored the Born Learning Trail. A nationwide initiative of the United Way, the trail is a series of 10 signs installed around the perimeter and sidewalks of community centers and parks. Young children can follow the “trail” of signs that promote age specific and simple-to-construct activities that they can do outside or inside.  “We want the signs to encourage learning and interaction between caregivers and children,” said Justine Olan, Early Learning Coalition’s outreach specialist.” “Parents and caregivers are the child’s first teachers.” At 1 p.m. today, Pensacola Neighborhood Services Department will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the interactive trail at the Theophalis May Resource Center at Legion Field, 1301 W. Gregory St., in Pensacola. The public is invited to attend the ceremony to get a up-close look at the innovative way the trail encourages young children to get active and have fun while boosting language and literacy skills. Early childhood is an important stage of life in a child’s development. It’s a time when children need high levels of attention and learning experiences. Education, at its best, begins the moment the child is brought home from the hospital and continues when the child starts to attend playgroups and preschools. About a year ago the Early Learning Coalition contacted the City of Pensacola to find the best places to kick off this learning initiative and install the learning trail signs. The Early Learning Coalition paid $1,500 for the first round of signs installed last year at Bayview Park. Florida Blue, the project’s sponsor, picked up the $1,500 tab to install the signs at Legion Field. Home Depot provided the building material. The city recommended Legion Field as another good spot because the new resource center serves a low-income population and lots of parents and caregivers use the park and center for activities, Olan said. “We hope to build that communication that will help children learn through activities,” Olan said. “Legion Field has a new center and it is the perfect place for it.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Burr family gives UWF gift that lasts

At a news conference, Tim Burr shared his family’s passion for supporting higher education. His parents, Burr said, earned accolades for their generosity in the support of people in need as well as philanthropic causes. “My parents believed that higher education creates opportunities for people to improve themselves and the community,” said Burr, in a news release. “They also really loved Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and the entire Northwest Florida region, so there was no better way to give back to the community than by supporting the university.” As an expression of love and a token of appreciation, the Burr family left the University of West Florida a $770,000 donation from its estate. Of the gift, $520,000 will go to the UWF College of Science, Engineering and Health. The remaining $250,000 will go toward athletics in support of the football team. UWF President Judy Bense said the Burrs’ legacy will enable the school to enhance academic and athletic opportunities for current and future students. “This gift represents one couple’s belief in the value of education,” Bense said. “The Burrs chose to leave a lasting legacy by investing in UWF, and this is a leading example to show that every gift can have a lasting legacy by investing in UWF.” The $250,000 donation athletics is the largest gift the new football program has received. In recognition of the Burr’s philanthropy and its impact on the university, the UWF Field House lobby will be named in their honor. The $520,000 donation will be used to establish the John Thayer and Joan Ames Burr Undergraduate Research Endowment. It will help students participating in high impact and undergraduate research to better prepare them for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Escambia schools share $1.6 million grant

Four Escambia County schools will share a $1.6 million grant to improve academic achievement and student wellness. Brown-Barge Middle School, along with Hellen Caro, Blue Angels and Pleasant Grove elementary schools, are recipients of the three-year grant provided by the Department of Defense Education Activity. Besides improving success in the classroom and the overall health of students, the grant will be used to increase technology in classroom instruction and enhance physical education, to enhance after-school math and science enrichment, and to provide student-maintained community gardens. Grant money also will be available to offer opportunities for students to attend summer camps onboard the National Museum of Naval Aviation’s Flight Adventure Deck and the National Flight Academy — both housed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Since 2010, the partnership between the defense department’s education group and the Escambia County School District has added nearly $4 million into eight area schools that serve a large portion of the district’s military-connected students. The grants are used to promote student achievement, support the needs of military students, improve professional development in education and integrate technology in schools and classrooms. “Because of our district’s partnership with the DoDEA, several of our military-connected schools have had the opportunity to further expand student interest in science and mathematics,” said Malcolm Thomas, Escambia schools superintendent. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Florida Prepaid lowers costs, prep refunds

TALLAHASSEE — Carrying out a new law aimed at holding down higher-education costs, the Florida Prepaid College Board on Thursday approved lowering the program’s prices and refunding nearly $200 million to about 18,000 families, according to a news release. The announcement came as prices were set for the 2014-15 open-enrollment period, which starts Oct. 15. The program, formally known as the Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program, is designed to allow families to pay years in advance and lock in the costs of sending students to state colleges or universities. Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott this spring approved a measure that included steps such as putting  back in place a cap on the fund’s payments to colleges and universities and rolling back a “differential tuition” law, which allowed university tuition increases of as much as 15 percent a year. The prepaid program had to take into account the possibility of differential increases, which are now barred at most universities and would be allowed at 6 percent for the University of Florida and Florida State University. Prices for newly purchased plans will decrease as much as 50 percent from last year, according to the prepaid board. Families who purchased plans in recent years at higher prices will see their payments reduced or will receive refunds if they are paid in full. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Helping parents connect with their school

Whether you are a parent, teacher, student or citizen in the community, you know how important it is to learn new things. That’s why the Escambia County School District Title I is hosting a workshop to help people learn more about the new Florida Standards. “The Perfect Brainstorm in 3-D” workshop will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at Woodham High School, 150 E. Burgess Road in Pensacola. The interactive workshop, according to a news release, will explain the new education standards and its benefits, and teach families specific age-appropriate activities to support learning at home. Florida Standards is basically another name for Common Core State Standards. Those standards outlined what students should know at each grade level. They were adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia and were already being used in schools throughout the state. But when controversy arose about Common Core, the state education department recommended changes in the benchmarks and gave them a new name. A noticeable difference between the new Florida Standards and the New Generation Standards used last year is that the new standards are designed specifically to a grade level. Parents and children of all ages, as well as their teachers, are invited to attend the hour-long workshop. The goal is to inspire the community to get involved in and excited about the new Florida Standards. For more information about the Florida Standards workshop, contact Leigh Ann South, Title 1, TSA – Parent and Community Involvement, at 595-6915.  Leigh Ann South was a guest on “Progress+Promise” in March to talk about how she helps parents at Oakcrest Elementary, where she works, build and maintain involvement in their child’s school life. You can watch our interview with her here. Read full story

Education

Escambia late-start dates nixed

Escambia County School District is planning to cancel a series of late start days that had been scheduled for teacher training. Schools superintendent Malcolm Thomas will recommend to the School Board a calendar change to cancel all late start dates for the 2014-2015 school year, according to a news release. The initial plan was to have schools start two hour late during the first half of the school year on three days — Sept. 17, Nov. 5 and Dec. 3 — for teachers to have “in-service” or professional training workshops. For many working parents, delaying school start times disrupts their plans and creates problems in making arrangements for their children. Thomas said the negative feedback the district received from parents led to the decision to find an alternative plan. “We always try to pay attention to the impact our decisions have on our students’ families,” he said. “This decision is being made to avoid significant hardships the two-hour delay would create for working families.” The School Board is expected to vote on the request at its meeting on Sept. 10. If approved, all schools will begin at their regular start times on those three days. “In the best interest of our students’ safety and our desire to serve our families, we will find an alternate method to deliver the professional training opportunities we had planned for those mornings,” Thomas said. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Take the mentor challenge

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I could have accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s a worthy cause to bring awareness to and raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called the Lou Gehrig disease. I applaud them all who have accepted the challenge to the tune of $79.7 million in donations for the ALS Association. But there’s another challenge out there, and I accepted it without even a drop of cold water touching my head. The challenge is as simple as it is significant. Starting next month, I’ll spend about an hour a week at Washington High School as a Take Stock in Children mentor. Those few hours a month can make a lifetime of difference for a young people who may need a push, a pat on the back or a few kind words to motivate them to always strive to become the best they can be. So my challenge to you is to join the important cause of becoming mentors in our schools. Even with parents, teachers and extended family members and friends, students can use all the help they can get to plot their course in life and plan for their future. You could be the spark that ignites their passion and desire to believe in the impossible and do the incredible. Studies show that children who have at least one consistent, caring adult in their lives are less likely to drop out of school or get in trouble with the law. They are better prepared to build strong relationships with their families than those without that positive influence. You never know where your influence starts and can never underestimate the impact you have on a child’s life and future. You don’t need power or prestige or deep pockets to mentor. Any responsible, caring adult willing to consistently share a little time can become a mentor for a child. Mentors usually end up becoming a friend and a role model to students who benefit from the guidance of another adult in their life. I mentored in Escambia schools for more than 10 years. It was a rewarding experience not only for the but for me as well. In the end, mentoring has the power to change lives. By being available for a child, sharing dreams and validating them, we can make a significant difference. I chose Take Stock in Children because it fits my schedule and fulfills the desire I have to see young people finish high school and pursue higher education. Take Stock in Children is a scholarship and mentoring program that provides students who qualify an opportunity to reach their potential and attend college. Sixth-grade students are eligible to apply if they meet the income requirements for free or reduced-price lunch. More than 14,000 children have graduated from the program. This year in Escambia County, 119 students are Take Stock Scholars in grades seven through 12. More that 75 students are in currently college and 45 have already graduated, something that may not have been possible without the scholarship — and guidance and support of a caring mentor. Ideally, each student in every school would have a mentor. With more than 40,000 students in Escambia County and nearly 26,000 in Santa Rosa, obviously that’s not the case. So that leaves an opportunity for you to step up and step in the role as an adult mentor for a child at a school near you. Accept the challenge and become a mentor. At no cost to you except a little time, energy and passion, becoming a mentor is a wonderful way to help a young person and your community at the same time. And you don’t have to get cold and wet to do it. To become a mentor, contact: Patty Vaillant, ECARE Escambia County, 433-6893, volunteer@escambiareads.org. Sally Bergosh, Youth Motivator Program Escambia County, 469-5676, sbergosh@escambia.k12.fl.us. Sally Lee, Take Stock in Children Escambia County, 469-5458, slee@escambia.k12.fl.us. Angi Brown, Take Stock in Children Santa Rosa County, 712-2264, brownab@mail.santarosa.k12.fl.us. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Fix education; high-income jobs will follow

Better education is the goal, but how to we get there?

In Pensacola, our economic prospects are all about education. Read full story

Education

Last year, 1 in 3 Escambia students didn’t graduate

Grad rates have risen, but county still has a way to go

On a sunlit June afternoon, Hannah Gainer beamed as she zipped up her scarlet gown. Read full story