Just seven years ago, it seemed Tampa’s St. Peter Claver Catholic School was going to shut down after over a century in the community.
Instead, the school has increased its number of enrolled students from less than 80 to more than 200, with the student expansion leading to plans to acquire more property.
That’s great news, considering the role the school has played in Tampa’s history and in improving the lives of its students, many poor African-Americans.
The private St. Peter Claver provides students extra attention and programs involving the arts and physical education. Though it is a Catholic school, students of many different faiths attend.
“People are beginning to see the difference, not only in academics but in the child,” said Sister Maria Babatunde, the principal of the school.
Its revival is seen as a complete community effort.
“If we didn’t have the community support, we wouldn’t be here” said Julie Jenkins, the development director for the school.
The support includes the private funding used for the school’s computer lab; local college interns assisting students in the classroom; a local resident providing a luncheon for the teachers, and such.
If citizens had not rallied around the school, Tampa would’ve suffered the loss of a piece of its history.
The school, founded nearly 120 years ago, has long been a focal point in Tampa’s black community. During the civil rights movement, blacks often met at the school. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, black leaders gathered at the school’s little second-story auditorium to discuss how to deal with the tragedy.
Now the school continues to be a difference maker in Tampa.
“These kids are here. They have challenges, but these are challenges we can control and take care of right now …” says Babatunde. “Once you get that trust in them and you get them into that mindset that this person really wants the best for me, now they want to try; now they want to fight for their own future.”
The school has a special place in Tampa’s history and it’s good news that, thanks to the efforts of its staff and the support of many individuals, it is back from the brink.