The Orlando Sentinel recently ran the following article:
Johnny Germaine, son of a single mother living in Parramore, hated school. As a high-school freshman, his GPA was "zero-point-something."So how did a teen who seemed destined to be another dropout graduate high school with a 3.5 GPA?
His turnaround happened because of Parramore Kidz Zone, a multi-tentacled program showing such impressive results in Orlando's toughest neighborhood that it's drawing attention around the country."When I came across PKZ, it was like a 360 in my life: Everything changed," Germaine said. "They saw a lot of potential that I didn't see in myself."
Parramore's troubles are so deep-rooted, so grounded in generations of poverty, that earlier efforts have had little overall impact on the neighborhood west of downtown.
The median household income is $13,613. About half the adults living there never finished high school. There are more than 2,000 children in Parramore, and 84 percent live in single-parent homes. Nearly three-quarters of the kids live below the poverty line.
PKZ was launched by the city in 2006, modeled after the successful Harlem Children's Zone in New York. It aims to shift the paths of so many wayward kids that it will create a cultural shift. As more children move through PKZ's programs, its workers and volunteers hope that eventually there will be more examples of achievement than failure in Parramore. "We're trying to move the needle," said Lisa Early, director of the city's Families, Parks and Recreation department.
Now in its seventh year, PKZ is having an impact. Nearly 4,200 kids have participated in at least one program since its start.
Juvenile arrests in Parramore have declined from 96 in 2006 to 12 in 2012, an 88 percent drop. High-school FCAT scores still lag behind the countywide average but have increased each year. And teen-pregnancy rates have fallen 32 percent.
PKZ takes a "cradle to career" approach, working with nonprofits on initiatives that target children from birth to adulthood. It's moved more young kids into pre-kindergarten programs. For school-age children, there's tutoring and help with homework at three community centers and New Image Youth Center. The University of Central Florida provides an intensive reading program taught by master's-level education students. "I've seen them start with D's and F's, and these kids now have A's," said Phil Zoshak, programs coordinator for Page 15, a nonprofit that runs the Homework Room at the Downtown Recreation Complex. "We've seen their grades improve; we've seen their attendance improve. We've really seen growth in these kids."
There are arts programs, too, including a UCF program that teaches digital storytelling. There are also places for children, particularly older ones, to just hang out in a safe environment.The Teen Shack at the Downtown Recreation Complex was designed by the kids, who also contributed much of the labor to transform it from a storage room to a hangout with computers and video games.
It's a far different situation than before PKZ was established; despite its location in the most troubled neighborhood in town, the city-owned Downtown Recreation Complex was adults-only until 2006. "I used to figure out excuses to get into the center. Unless you were using the restroom or getting a drink of water, they'd make you leave," said Germaine, now 22 and a PKZ employee.Few kids are naturally inclined to walk through the door looking for tutoring. Most are attracted by PKZ's sports programs - football, basketball and baseball - before they're roped into academic programs.
"It's like dangling a carrot to get the kids involved," Children and Education Manager Brenda March said.
That's what drew Mario Fountain as a ninth-grader: "I had tunnel vision: sports. Nothing else mattered to me."His grades were terrible at the time, but tutoring, counseling and support changed that. In May, he became one of the first PKZ participants to earn a four-year college degree, with a bachelor's in kinesiology from East Central University in Oklahoma.
PKZ provides college tours and help with college and financial-aid applications, among other things. A record 27 participants entered college this year.
PKZ is a city-run program, but it works closely with Orange County Public Schools. PKZ has an annual budget of $1.4 million, with about $1 million from the city and $400,000 from corporate donations and grants. Much of the budget is distributed to nonprofit partner organizations that offer services in the neighborhood. Working with the schools, PKZ gathers data on each student's performance, allowing it to tailor assistance to specific individuals.
Mayor Buddy Dyer, who raises money for PKZ, said that also makes it possible to gauge its effectiveness. "We have measurable results, not just anecdotal results," he said.
Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield and Brenda March
Parramore Kidz Zone would like to congratulate PKZ alumni Levonte
"Kermit" Whitfield on his outstanding performance during the BCS Championship Rose Bowl football game. His game changing fourth quarter 100 yard kick-off return touchdown led to the historic win for Florida State University.
The following link is a video of a recent presentation updating Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando City Council on the work and accomplishments of Parramore Kidz Zone since the program was launched in 2006.
To kick off the holiday season, volunteers assembled 525 "Imagination Care Kits" for Parramore children. The event was organized by one of PKZ's non-profit partners, Page 15. Each kit contains a book, a pair of cozy socks, a snack, and a hand-written message of encouragement and inspiration. Page 15 delivered the kits to Fern Creek Elementary and Nap Ford Community School. Every child at the schools received a kit!
Page 15 operates a homework assistance program every day after school in Parramore. On any given day about 25 Parramore children attend, free of charge. The program especially focuses on building children's reading and writing skills. It's one of the reasons the needle has been moving on school performance among Parramore's children.
For more information about Page 15 visit, www.page15.org .