Pasco Co. banking on new concept to help struggling school

Gulfside Elem. is area's first 'community school'
Posted at 5:49 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-05 17:50:05-05

A failing school in Pasco County is taking a new approach to turn things around. Gulfside Elementary is just one of three schools in Florida designated as a "community school," designed to help kids in the classroom and beyond.

There's a lot of excitement at Gulfside Elementary in Holiday. It's a welcome sign because the designated turnaround option school has had its fair share of struggles. So this year, it's trying something new.
It's now a "community school," thanks to a UCF grant.

"The community school focuses on the social well-being of the child, so the school board can focus on the learning of the students.  Without each other, it wasn't working," said Jeanne Krapfl, Gulfside Elementary principal.

In a low-income, high-crime area of Holiday, some families  were looking for changes to give kids a fighting chance.

"It was something we needed in our community," said parent Margot Zukowski.

Zukowski is a mom of two Gulfside students.

"The community school has helped us out tremendously," she said.

Zukowski's son Keegan used to hate reading. Now, he's in a book club.

"I can see how much I've grown.  How much I do good at reading," said Keegan Zukowski.

The community school links four key partners:  Pasco County Schools, The Unversity of South Florida-St. Petersburg, Youth & Family Alternatives, and Premier Community HealthCare, so students are supported well beyond the classroom.

As part of the program, the YMCA offers before and after school care.

"They know what's expected of them. They come in and start their homework themselves. When they're done with that, they read a book.  It's really awesome," said Brie Thompson, Gulfside Elementary YMCA site director.

Another huge component is a dental clinic at the school. It's crucial because dental pain is among the top reasons kids miss school.

"They don't focus doing homework. They don't focus in class. They don't smile. They become more introverted, and this has long-term effects on the child," said Dr. Jose Peralta, Premier Community HealthCare dental director, and dentist at Gulfside's clinic.

The new goal is for every kid to have at least one check up each year. 

There's also a community school office, where staff can connect families to all kinds of resources to meet their needs, including an on site clothing and food closet.

"A lot of times they want help, but they just don't know where to get it," said Principal Krapfl.

The community school approach is already building confidence in the students, and over the course of the 25-year program, Gulfside is hoping student achievement will soar.