About one year ago, a bullet penetrated a classroom at Frances Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove — missing a child by just a few inches.
At that time, School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that we must provide “envelopes of safety” for students between the time we release them from school and the end of the working day. One year later, that near-tragedy has spurred a multijurisdictional effort to engage public school students in after-school activities — including STEM instruction, dance and martial arts.
Frances Tucker, which had virtually no after-school programs a year ago, now boasts a dance program involving 75 students (sponsored entirely by the Thomas Armour Foundation) and a martial arts program involving another 50. These add up to almost half of the entire student population.
What began as a privately funded initiative, using surplus campaign funds from a county commissioner’s campaign, now promises to flourish into a countywide network involving the school system, the municipalities and the Legislature. Such a grandiose expansion of what began as a small prototype obviously requires a great deal of inter-governmental cooperation. And such cooperation now is a reality.
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We represent three jurisdictions: Perla Tabares Hantman is a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board, which serves 350,000 students; Miami ommissioner Francis X. Suarez is the president of the Miami-Dade League of Cities; and Xavier Suarez is the county commissioner who initiated what has been termed the “Frances Tucker Miracle.”
Thanks to Tabares Hantman’s sponsorship and the co-sponsorship of School Board member Mari Tere Rojas and the other members of the board, we have been joined in the effort by State Rep. Nick X. Duran and State Sen. Daphne Campbell. They have agreed to sponsor key legislation needed to staff the countywide after-school program. Here’s how it will work:
▪ Facilities, including classrooms and recreational areas, will be provided by the school system, cities and the county. In many cases, the schools are bordered by municipal parks. For instance, the Charles Hadley Park area, with its magnificent city park, adjoins an elementary and a middle-school. The park is equipped with a $6 million recreational facility that will be run by the Liberty City Optimists, under the leadership of Luther Campbell.
▪ Instruction will be provided by college students who are recipients of Florida Bright Futures Scholarships. The idea of involving scholarship recipients emanated from House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo and is intended to generate skilled interns in a “revenue-neutral” way — meaning without requiring new taxes or expenditures.
▪ Administration of the programs will be a joint effort of the school system and the Children’s Trust. This collaborative effort follows the model of the summer jobs internship program, initiated last year and involving county funds and administration by the School Board and the Children’s Trust. The success of that internship program, which involved 1,400 students, has made it a national model.
We are determined not to allow our youngsters to be victims of violence in neighborhoods where supervised education and recreation should occupy the working hours of each day. We have vowed to turn a tragedy into a victory by expanding the supervision and use of existing facilities into “envelopes of safety” where our kids can grow in wisdom, character and friendly competition.
Perla Tabares Hantman is immediate past chair of the Miami-Dade County School Board. Francis X. Suarez is a city of Miami commissioner. Xavier L. Suarez is a Miami-Dade County commissioner.