The Hillsborough County School Board gathered with teachers, administrators and public school officials on Tuesday to honor schools and organizations for their efforts to enhance public school education throughout the county. For the first time in more than 30 years, the attending representatives included one of the Bay area's professional sports teams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris and Glazer Family Foundation Co-President Darcie Glazer Kassewitz represented the Buccaneers and the Foundation, who were honored for their generous support of schools, teachers and students in 2009. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and School Board Chair Susan Valdes presented awards to Coach Morris and Mrs. Glazer Kassewitz in appreciation for the two organizations' numerous contributions to Hillsborough County Public Schools.
More than 100 people gathered at the Raymond O. Shelton School Administrative Center in downtown Tampa for the recognition meeting, where Assistant Superintendent Gwen Luney spoke on the various ways the Buccaneers and the Foundation have created direct, engaging programs and initiatives to impact students.
One of the most recognized additions to the Foundation's community outreach efforts has been the Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile, which travels throughout Hillsborough and surrounding counties providing free eye exams and prescription glasses to children at Title I schools. To date, the Foundation has distributed new glasses to 130 students in need of vision assistance.
The NFL's Play 60 initiative increased its exposure over the past year as well, and students at four Hillsborough County middle schools were the direct beneficiaries. Buccaneer players visited the Title I schools as part of the team's "Play 60 Challenge," a program in conjunction with the American Heart Association that inspires students to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. The program culminated with a fitness challenge where the schools competed for thousands of dollars in grants to benefit their physical education programs and help fund new athletic equipment.
Also part of the Play 60 initiative are the Buccaneers' "Play 60 Zones," the first of which was unveiled in March at the LaVoy Exceptional School in Tampa. Part of the Hillsborough County Public School system, LaVoy provides educational programs and support for students with a wide range of disabilities. The "Play 60 Zone" includes a new court cover and athletic equipment for the school's outdoor recreation area, providing shade and wind resistance for students during their physical education periods.
"When we designed the LaVoy School a number of years ago, we wanted that courtyard to be a teaching area," said Dr. Jack Lamb, county school board member, during Tuesday's meeting. "But because of the challenges of some of our students, we had to keep some of our doors shut, which made the courtyard extremely hot. Due to the Glazers – and we told Coach [Morris] this the other day when we were out there – we're getting to use it after all these years now that we have it covered."
Throughout the year, Buccaneers players made numerous visits to other schools in the county to share messages about the importance of education. In particular, the team has encouraged students to aspire to attend college and receive further learning after high school.
A new creation this year was the "Bucs for Books" scholarships. With the help of the United Negro College Fund, the team provided five student-athletes attending Hillsborough County Title I high schools with book scholarships for four years of college. During the Buccaneers' organized team activity days (OTAs) next week, Morris will also award $10,000 to assist Hillsborough County "Florida Bright Futures" scholarship recipients with need-based funding for college including computers, room and board deposits and additional incidentals.
"Thank you on behalf of the school board, our superintendant and our students," Luney told Glazer Kassewitz and Morris during the presentation. "Your efforts this year to provide these opportunities and scholarships will go a long way. Thank you so much for making such a big difference."
One of Morris' personal education initiatives during the 2009-10 school year was the "Be the Ultimate Character Student" (BUCS) program. Following each Buccaneers home game, Morris hosted a video podcast that aired in middle schools and high schools throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, as well as on Buccaneers.com, that addressed education, leadership, determination and character. On the weeks during the Buccaneers' away games, schools worked on their own character education curriculum, which were reinforced by Coach Morris' messages.
In addition, the Buccaneers donated game tickets to public school bus drivers, teachers and students in recognition for their hard work. The Buccaneers' High School Coach of the Week program also honored five Hillsborough County football coaches during the prep football season, including Sickles' Pat O'Brien, the 2009 Coach of the Year. The honor included a $1,000 donation to each school's football program and recognition on Buccaneers.com.
"We couldn't do this without the Glazer Family Foundation, and I appreciate their efforts and everything the Glazers allow me to do around town," said Morris. "I am proud of our team's efforts to make an impact in the community, and we will continue in our pursuit to improve the education of students here in Tampa."