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“It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard, impossible is not a word; it’s just a reason for someone not to try.”
Every email sent by Felicia Hardaway, principal of North Shore Elementary
in Jacksonville, is tagged with that inspirational quote. If there is a single word to capture Principal Hardaway’s spirit, it would have to be inspiring.
Principal Hardaway came to our attention through our employee, Willetta Richie, who organized a group of Florida Blue employees to mentor students at North Shore. This group called themselves the Village Keepers
, and worked hard to help prepare students at North Shore for the FCAT last spring.
We’re proud to say that the Village Keepers
were a resounding success, and that they’ll return again this fall to be an integral part of the students’ lives. This week, Willetta joined Principal Hardaway for an interview
on "First Coast Connect," a local radio program on the Jacksonville National Public Radio affiliate. [To jump to that story, advance to minute 46 of the podcast.]
We wanted to hear more from Principal Hardaway about the challenges her students face, and how the community can make a difference at the start of this new school year.
What is the need for community involvement at a school like North Shore?
Schools like North Shore follow the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Many of our parents work two or more jobs, which means students are often home alone once they get out of school. There is no one there to prepare dinner, help them with their homework or even hold a conversation with them. Having the community involved in the learning process helps to instill an emphasis on education, morals and values in students (at school) that they may be missing at home.
How did your students respond to this kind of involvement, outside of improved test scores?
The students loved the community involvement. For some, their Saturday school mentor/tutor from North Shore Village Keepers
(NSVK) was one of the most consistent people in their lives. They looked forward to attending the sessions on Saturdays. For children, the more people that they feel care about them and their success, the better they perform. It gives them hope and builds their pride and self-esteem: my mentor believes and supports my success.
What might convince someone who doesn't think they have the skills or time to devote to students to give it a chance?
When people visit our school and see the look on our students faces as they explain to them what they're doing and learning in class, no convincing is needed. The children at North Shore Elementary School will melt your heart. They are so passionate about their school and the learning that is taking place in their lives that they burst with excitement and joy. As the principal, I would like to invite the entire staff of Florida Blue to partner with the NSVK in helping to promote the academic success of our students.
If you feel the calling to be a mentor this school year, we encourage you to connect with the multiple online resources to help fill this need. Here’s a list to get you started:
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Communities in School
Take Stock in Children