Our group of about 40 were welcomed at the front door by ROTC students and taken to the Culinary Center where we were served a delicious breakfast. Approximately 143 students participate in the culinary program and are mentored by a professional chef, who stated that 25 of them are skilled enough to work in professional kitchens.
After that, we divided into groups and visited four classes, including one of the district's only two Chinese language classes; an AICE math class where students were so engaged, learning from one another, and one of the math classes where the lead teacher was joined by one of the Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program teachers (another QEA initiative). JTR places a STEM major (requiring a 3.5 GPA) in classrooms where they spend a year with a master teacher while attending classes at UNF. The residents receive a master's degree in Education, and agree to spend three years teaching in one of the STEM classrooms in one of the 36 QEA schools. The last class we visited focused on digital learning in a computer lab where all students were on task and excited to share what they were doing with us.
I also spoke with a group of City Year Corps Members who help in ninth grade English and Math classes asking them what their classroom needs were. They said that they needed some of the basics such as pencils and pens - but I was most surprised when they said fresh fruit. They mentioned that earlier in the year, someone had brought in fresh fruit and the students really enjoyed it.
Finally, I cannot say enough about the principal, Vincent Hall, a Raines graduate, who spoke to us about how he is committed to the students' success and reinforces daily that they can and will achieve and succeed. His school was filled with art, with discipline and with many caring adults who work tirelessly to see that it is clean and well maintained. However, there is still great need. What struck me is that even with the great need, there is a wonderful spirit at the school and that there are a lot of resources being deployed to turn things around.
I think that many in the media have portrayed Raines, Ribault and Jackson as unsafe places where a lack of discipline rules; I must tell you that is not the case. I have seen first hand that those are not true, and hope that more people will take the time to visit our schools and participate in the great work and major changes that Superintendent Vitti and School Board Members such as Connie Hall who spoke to the group are supporting. Our community needs to step up and support them too.