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

FCAT second look: The battle of middle school

The battle of middle school is not going well in Escambia County. Every year when the FCAT data comes in, achievement levels drop off starkly. The only district middle school that consistently posts high state standardized test scores is Brown-Barge, a magnet school that includes the program for gifted students, draws children from all over the county. In general, reading and math proficiency scores there are in 80s or high 70s. Eighth-graders there last year were 85 percent proficient in reading; 81 percent proficient in math; 69 percent proficient in science; and 52 percent proficient in writing. So when you peel that layer of high-performing students out of the pool, what do you have left? Middle schools that post achievement scores in the 50s and 60s, and too often are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Warrington Middle School  — Put into turnaround after getting F from the state Department of Education for 2013. The school was a D school on 2012. Warrington has a new principal this year, Reggie Lipnick. — Eighth graders: 34 percent proficient in reading; 35 percent proficient in math; 40 percent proficient in science; 42 percent proficient in writing. When those students were seventh-graders, they were 31 percent proficient in reading and 23 percent proficient in math. — Warrington eighth-graders posted some of the largest numeric gains in scores of any middle school in the county this year: Reading is up 9 points; math up 11 points; science up 12 points; 19 points in writing. When those students were in sixth grade, 28 percent of them were proficient in reading and 18 percent in math. This year, 34 percent were proficient in reading and 35 percent in math. — Says Superintendent Malcolm Thomas: “Warrington had gains in lots of areas. It’s not going to make them an A but I think we’ve gotten them out of the F range.” Lipnick is the former principal at Ferry Pass Middle and, Thomas says, “one of my best administrators for school culture. She’s going to do amazing things. “I’m seeing veteran teachers wanting to move to Warrington, and that’s a great sign. I’m going to believe it that when I see parents transfer into that attendance zone, then I think we will have started to accomplish the turnaround we needed. “ — There is a flight academy academic track at the school and, Thomas says, they’ve hired a new band director, and there is talk of standing up a chorus at the school. “The things the district can control we’re going to control and move on,” he said. “At some point, we will need community support to help with that band or some kids will knocked out of that program.” Workman Middle School — Set up as an International Baccalaureate school to raise academic standards and to offer an alternative for parents who leave the public school system for private school when their children enter middle school. Workman achieved official IB World School status in 2012 by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Workman is also a designated Title I school, which means it is eligible for federal funding because of the poverty level of the students it serves. Workman has a 70 percent free and reduced-price lunch rate in 2013 and a minority rate of 67 percent. Workman earned a D last year on the FCAT. — In 2014, 47 percent of eighth-graders were proficient at reading; 36 percent at math; 45 percent in science; in writing, 36 percent. Sixth-graders there were 52 percent proficient in reading and 42 percent proficient in math. Both figures are up from 2011. — Superintendent Thomas says: “I think we’re making progress, there’s still some maturity that needs to occur, but they’ve made progress, and I think the parents are seeing some results.” Read full story

Education

Addressing writing scores downward turn

Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says he is very concerned with the impact the new writing standard has had at the elementary school level. Longleaf Elementary posted the highest writing scores with 68 percent proficiency; O.J. Semmes Elementary posted the lowest proficiency score at 6 (down from 53 percent the year before). Twenty schools posted writing scores below 50 percent proficiency. “It was an expository prompt, which asks kids to explain something,” Thomas says. “Typically what fourth-graders were given was a narrative prompt, where you tell a story. We have our district crew working to provide staff development for teachers, to do more exercises where kids read text and write and defend their opinion in their own words.” Next year, Thomas says, writing as a separate score will disappear. It will be folded into an overall language arts score. “We’ve got to step up our leadership to help our schools,” Thomas says. “We’re going to focus on giving students specific feedback on how to improve, conferencing one on one, and making them go back and revise the writing, where you tell them what has to be fixed and they have to fix it.” Read full story

Education

Write your way into the Flight Academy for free

Progress+Promise is sponsoring an essay contest for middle-school and high school students to win a free week or three-day camp at the National Flight Academy. Here’s how: Students should write an original, 500-word essay telling us why you want to attend the National Flight Academy, and what it would mean to you.  Essays are due by July 15 at 5 p.m., and can be emailed to Progress+Promise host Shannon Nickinson at Shannon@Studeri.com.  The winning essayists will be notified by July 23 in time to register for the last week of Deployment Camp, (First Place Winner) beginning Aug. 14 or the three-day Cruise camp (2nd place winner) offered at various times this fall. For more information about the National Flight Academy, visit www.NationalFlightAcademy.com and watch this great Progress+Promise clip about the program. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Cracking the code

NEWS RELEASE — Twice a month, the University of West Florida Innovation Institute is hosting a CoderDojo programming class for kids ages 7-17 to engage in a fun learning experience where they will learn how to code, develop apps, websites, games and more. CoderDojo is an open source, volunteer-led movement that establishes free, nonprofit coding clubs and sessions for elementary, middle and high school students. To date, there are more than 440 clubs in 43 countries and counting. Pensacola’s dojo is the first in northern Florida with other clubs in Tampa and Miami. The UWF Innovation Institute, with the support of its community partners, including AppRiver, Beck Properties, Silver Bullet and GBSI, hosted the first “CoderDojo Pensacola” on June 19 with 15 student “ninjas” ages 6-15 participating. “Championing and leading the CoderDojo Pensacola club enables the UWF Innovation Institute to provide a free club opportunity for young people in this community to learn to program and write code,” said Kathy Denkler, assistant director for Cybersecurity & Institute Industry and Community Partnerships at the Innovation Institute. “Our ninjas learn critical thinking skills, and by helping each other they also develop teamwork skills along the way. Computing skills are a critical necessity for IT and cybersecurity career fields. During the class 6-year-olds were having fun and sharing the excitement of success with their parents. It’s rewarding when the light comes on in their heads and they get it at such a young age.” 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. CoderDojo programming classes will be held at the Innovation Institute, located at 321 N. DeVilliers St. in downtown Pensacola, on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month. The next event will be on July 10 from 6-8 p.m. For additional information about the global CoderDojo movement, visit coderdojo.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, contact pensacola.us@coderdojo.com. For details, visit uwf.edu/innovation. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Opening the PSC to UWF pipeline

NEWS RELEASE — The University of West Florida and Pensacola State College announced a new partnership today, the PSC2UWF program. This program will provide students the opportunity to complete an associate’s degree program at PSC and transfer to UWF to complete a bachelor’s degree. “It is a great day when two institutions, that have partnered together since their origins, find new ways to serve our students and support the goals of our region and state,” said University of West Florida President Judy Bense. “This partnership will streamline processes, create efficiencies and expand offerings but most importantly, it will enhance the student experience and opportunities. Together UWF and PSC can harness the full potential of our students and prepare them for the professional workforce.” Bense and PSC President Edward Meadows introduced the program at a signing ceremony. UWF and PSC will share joint coordination of the program, which includes executing outreach to high school students and other members of the community in an effort to encourage them to pursue an associate’s degree through PSC, while also providing tailored, intensive advising that will place students on a path toward a bachelor’s degree from UWF. “We often ask ourselves what is best for our students and Dr. Bense and I have that discussion often,” Meadows said. “There is no doubt that, as proven at other colleges, the ‘Direct Admit’ agreement between Pensacola State and the University of West Florida is in the best interest of students who wish to transfer to our regional university. This agreement will streamline the process and ensure that the courses taken at PSC will place each student in the position of taking full advantage of the opportunity to be admitted to the University of West Florida at the same time they are admitted to PSC.” Students enrolled at PSC will be offered admission to UWF early in their academic career in order to receive personalized and attentive transition services for a seamless transfer. Questions? Visit PSC2.UWF.edu. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Getting ahead in the lab

A nearly $1 million grant will boost research for University of West Florida faculty and help students pursue post-graduate degrees. The Maximizing Access to Research Career Programs through Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research grant, or MARC U-STAR, will go to support underrepresented undergraduate students seeking doctorate or medical/doctorate degrees in biomedical and behavioral sciences. The $930,000 grant will allow students to spent more time doing research and preparing them for high-caliber graduate programs. The grant program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula and teaching skills of faculty and biomedical research training at colleges and universities with a high enrollment of students from underrepresented groups. UWF professors Karen Molek, director of Chemistry Scholars, and Michael Huggins, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, applied and secured the grant, which will be distributed over the next five years. “Dr Huggins and I have the privilege of using this award to mentor students and help them achieve greater success than they ever dreamed,” Molek said in a press release. “Research scientists capable of solving health concerns of the 21st century will require collaborative research from a diverse workforce.” The grant will be used to pay tuition and a portion of housing expenses for UWF students participating in the MARC Scholars Programs. It also will pay summer stipends for students to conduct research on and off campus during the summer semester. A portion of the grant will fund small research stipends for 17 UWF professors from biology, chemistry and physics departments who will mentor MARC Scholars in the research lab. The grant will enhance the university’s efforts to expand the UWF Chemistry Scholars program into other STEM departments across campus and get more federal grants. “(This) grant will allow UWF to increase the opportunities for students majoring in biology, chemistry and physics by providing them with experiences and training that will help them be outstanding scientists, researchers and physicians,” Huggins said. “The mentoring and research training provided to students will play a critical role in their professional development, helping to ensure they have the best chances of being successful.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Where learning takes flight

One of the biggest new additions to the community-based learning landscape in Pensacola has been the National Flight Academy. The academy is entering its second full year of giving students in grades 7 through 12 a weeklong immersive education experience centered around flight. Might one of those students leave with ambitions to become a future Top Guns? Maybe. But organizers of the academy will count it as a victory if the students who go through the academy leave it with a greater interest in math and science. Meet Karen Sindel, vice president of business development for the flight academy, and hear their story. Read full story

Education

Making science MESSY

Megan Pratt founded the hands-on science museum as a way to boost scientific literacy among school children. When the state added science to the FCAT, scores locally were nothing to brag about. But no one wants to feel like they are in school all the time. Which is the brilliance of the MESS Hall. This summer they have added seven new permanent exhibits to their space on Tarragona Street and again are running a series of summer camps. Meet Megan and learn about how the MESS Hall began and is growing into the future. Read full story

Education

Making learning summer-proof

Summer break is here. And while we want our little darlings to have time to unplug and unwind after the school year, we can let their brains turn completely to much over the break. Luckily, our area is home to a growing number of outlets that will help kids keep their minds nimble over the summer. And while it’s a big joke at my house that I periodically have to check to see if their brains have turned to mushy goo and started leaking out of the ears, summer learning loss is a real thing, and something that can impact a child’s learning level once they do return to school in the fall. In this episode, meet some folks here today whose work shows the benefits that can come when the community embraces learning in all arenas. Read full story

Education

Helping the village raise readers

Peter Nowak’s investment in the restaurant business has paid off. He now owns and operates six McDonald’s in Pensacola. Nowak is hoping that his investment in early learning pays off as well. Nowak’s Learn & Earn project at Woodlands Heights Community Resource Center is designed to help preschool children learn while earning coupons for free meals at McDonald’s. “If we don’t start here, we don’t have a chance in high school,” said Nowak, CEO of Nowak Enterprises. “I want people to come to the center to get an early start and talk about early learning.” The Earn & Learn program will offer more than 100 video messages in areas such as phonics, geography, math and language arts. Designed in 2012 with the help of the Early Learning Coalition, the program follows the lessons of the state’s voluntary prekindergarten curriculum. Woodland Heights director Thomas Brame said training for programs starts this week. He hopes by the next week for children to begin their lessons. Woodland Heights already has seven computers used mostly by adults, teenagers and older children. There were no computers or programs available for preschool children. The Learn & Earn project will bring in additional tablets and computers for the children to use alongside their parents. “We’re really excited about it,” Brame said. “To have prek programs is really nice.” When the learning stations open, children will use nametags to log into the computers. They will receive credentials after their parents sign them up. From there, the system will remember and record the work they have completed in what’s called L3 (Look, Listen, Learn) Once a child has watched a certain number of messages, his/her parents will receive a text coupon for meals at Nowak’s McDonald’s on Bayou Boulevard to thank them for participating. Nowak’s idea to create the early learning program came to him at a conference in Cincinnati on generational poverty. He said he didn’t fully understand the issues relating to poverty, but had seen its effects on some employees at his restaurants. “For most people there is no way out other than education,” Nowak said. “And it has to start at an early age.” Nowak knows that his project is a small step toward a bigger goal of providing quality preschool for every child in Escambia. He hopes to get community and business leaders interested in and excited about early childhood education. “This is not just the responsibility of families,” he said. “We are connected together in the community we live in and we need to embrace it.” Nowak has gained support from Mayor Ashton Hayward, who he described as “a great advocate for early learning.” It was Hayward who suggested to Nowak to use Woodland Heights as the incubator for the early learning program. The center is near Pensacola Village, a low-income housing project. Many of its residents use the center for various activities, including computer access and summer programs. “It is critical to expose children to education and reading, which builds a foundation to learning,” Hayward said.  “We want to expose as many children as we can to early learning at Woodland Heights.” Research indicates that providing quality education for children before they turn 5-years-old yields significant long-term benefits. One study showed that young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, to become better citizens and even have longer marriages. Other studies show children engaged in preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education or get into future trouble with the law. Nowak and Hayward hope business owners, public officials and community leaders come aboard to enhance and expand early learning throughout Escambia County. “It’s critical to tie early education to the workforce,” Hayward said. “Early learning is paramount to the success of our children.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Bringing the global community home

Students who study a foreign language score higher on math and language arts as well as have higher verbal scores on standardized tests, studies show. “Why should we teach our children a foreign language?” said anthropologist Dr. Kathryn McGowan. “Learning a second language vastly improves overall school performance.” McGowan shared her findings on the importance of early language education as the keynote speaker at Global Corner’s annual Explorers’ Luncheon this week at the Pensacola Yacht Club. The lack of language skills also impacts how businesses operate. More than 30 percent of large companies in the U.S. believe they lost business because of the lack of foreign language skills, McGowan said. “We’re falling behind and suffering the consequences,” she said. “It is academically, financially and culturally necessary to broaden language skills.” Most children in elementary schools in the U.S. don’t study foreign languages, but nearly all children in European countries do, she said. Programs like Global Corner are taking steps to help bridge the language gap in elementary schools by exposing young students to foreign countries. In its seventh year, Global Corner has brought the world to schools throughout Northwest Florida. Each school year, Global Corner features a new country, engaging students in a global experience without leaving the classroom. Through hands-on activities with educational poster boards as backdrops, students learn about the language, culture, geography, food and art of people around the world. More than 43,000 virtual trips have taken students to countries including Japan, Spain, Egypt and Brazil. This year the students took a virtual trip to Europe with the Passport to Italy tour. Global Corner presented a glimpse of what students learn in a classroom during Tuesday’s luncheon and silent auction. Decorative poster boards covered with various faces and places in Italy stood on tables, surrounded by colorful and creative collections of artifacts, ceramic masks and artwork. Topics included Italy’s culture, music, art, festivals and the city of Rome. At the end of the school year, students competed in the “Why I Love the Global Corner” essay contest. Gulf Breeze Elementary School first-grader Ansley Ballenger’s essay was selected from the kindergarten through second-grade category. On vacation in South Carolina, Ansley shared her winning words on an iPad via the Internet. Natalia Mercado, 9, a fourth-grader at Oriole Beach Elementary School, penned the winning essay in the third- through fifth-grade category. She stood confidently in front of about 100 people at the luncheon to read her winning prose.  “It is fun to learn about Italy when you have the Global Corner to teach you,” Natalia said. “Because of this experience, I would one day like to visit Italy.” Natalia’s teacher, Valerie Ceravolo, said she was impressed that her students remembered so much information from Global Corner’s visit to Oriole Beach last month. “It’s superb how they incorporate different parts of the country in the lessons,” Ceravolo said. “They bring the country to them, which makes it enjoyable and educational.” Learning about other parts of the world goes a long way in helping understanding other people and how they live. Global Corner is a good place for children in Northwest Florida to begin their lesson. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

A bridge from Tallahassee to Pensacola

NEWS RELEASE — The University of West Florida in Pensacola and Tallahassee Community College announced a new partnership today, the TCC2UWF program. This program will provide students the opportunity to complete an associate’s degree program at TCC and transfer to UWF to complete a bachelor’s degree. UWF President Dr. Judy Bense and TCC President Dr. Jim Murdaugh introduced the program at a signing ceremony. TCC and UWF will share joint coordination of the program, which includes executing outreach to high school students and other members of the community in an effort to encourage them to pursue an associate’s degree through TCC, while also providing tailored, intensive advising that will place students on a path toward a bachelor’s degree from UWF. “We are delighted to sign this partnership today with Tallahassee Community College,” Bense said. “It provides an excellent opportunity for students in this region to complete their Bachelor’s degree at a mid-size regional comprehensive University in Northwest Florida. At UWF, we can focus on providing both a high touch and quality education with personalized attention, small class sizes and a unique student experience.” “We are excited to be able to offer students another opportunity to create a relationship with a great four-year institution that will help them plan for and attain success,” Murdaugh said. Students enrolled at TCC will be offered admission to UWF early in their academic career in order to receive personalized and attentive transition services for a seamless transfer. For additional information on TCC2UWF, visit TCC2.UWF.edu. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story