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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Tarpon Springs fifth-graders taught value of education

TAMPA — Ten-year-old Junior Medarias, a fifth-grader at Tarpon Springs Elementary School, wants to be a college football player when he grows up.

His classmates, Madison Smith, 10; and Samantha Blyszczek, 10, want to be, respectively, a karate instructor and a chemist who makes cleaning supplies.

To accomplish any of career goals, the 85 fifth-graders who toured St. Petersburg College’s Tarpon Springs campus Wednesday learned they need to continue their education — at a university, a community college or a technical school.

“We’ve done field trips to Enterprise Village, where students learn about different careers they could have someday, but we never really made the connection that you need to have an education to get those jobs,” said Beverley Billiris, a fifth-grade teacher at Tarpon Springs Elementary and the former mayor of the city. “When we lose our students in fifth grade, sometimes that motivation goes away forever, and I personally feel the earlier we plant that seed the better chance we have that our students will succeed later in life.”

Billiris met with SPC Tarpon Springs Campus Provost Conferlete Carney to arrange the field trip at no cost to the students. It was an unusual excursion; most college trips are geared toward middle or high school students, but Billiris and Carney said they hope to make the visit a yearly tradition.

The students, in line to graduate high school in 2021, experienced a day as typical college undergraduates, with some dancing, crafting and partying mixed in.

They sat in on two college classes — one with education students where they talked about setting goals for the future and one on the biology of tarantulas and spiders — heard motivational speeches from current SPC students, toured the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Modern Art, and made a collage of pictures, sayings and future goals to remind them to keep pursuing their education. They also danced and interacted with students from various SPC clubs and signed a banner solidifying that they “commit to complete” their education.

“I really want to go here for college because it seems really fun and really big,” Blyszczek said. “I learned what hard math you have to do when you’re in college, but I’m pretty good at math and everyone seemed happy to be here.”

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