Education granted

Brilliant yellow lights flashed from photographers and the crowd screamed as the red carpet entryway was cleared for numerous limousines carrying the guests of the evening. It could have been a scene out of Hollywood, except for the high school students and non-profit organization leaders who stepped out of the limousines.

Bank of America rolled out the red carpet on Nov. 16 for USF’s Stavros Center. The center, which instructs K-12 teachers and administrators on creative ways to teach economics, received the Neighborhood Excellence Award in the Neighborhood Builders category, earning a financial award of $200,000 to be paid out over two years.

“We got the first check of $100,000 that night,” said Dick Puglisi, director of the Stavros Center.

When a Bank of America representative told Puglisi that the center received the award, he was elated.

“I jumped up, and she jumped up, and the chair fell over. I felt so appreciated,” said Puglisi, who added that the work done in the center made “a difference in not only the lives of teachers, but students,” as well.

“(We were) awarded for operational cost, and money for operational costs are hard to get,” he said.

Many grants do not want to give money for operational costs, which are the basic needs of an organization, such as electric and water bills.

The Bank of America award selection committee is made up of community and business leaders from around the Tampa Bay area. This year, former Gov. Bob Martinez and the committee looked to award organizations building houses for the community and/or improving education.

Sheila Benjamin, a teacher of economics and world history at Bloomingdale High School and a center student, said the center brings in excellent speakers.

“Puglisi works hard to get (major business) leaders to their programs,” Benjamin said.

This allows the teachers to be in contact and learn from people involved in making business decisions in the changing economy. Benjamin said not only is she more informed, but she is also able to inform her students on the most up to date changes.

Kathy Walker, director of students and teachers in Pinellas County, said the classes gave her ideas on information on economics and helped her make economics come alive to fifth-grade students.

“Getting students ready to learn to manage money is an example of the training given at the center,”Walker said.

The center has workshops and other creative ways to teach K-12 teachers who come from various areas of Florida.

“Teachers, we say, are highly valued – but they are not,” Puglisi said.

He said this program is one way to show teachers that they are valued. That is why Puglisi said the center has “creative people and are looking for creative things to do.”

The center plans to use the $200,000 to improve the programs for teachers by making workshops more technologically savvy. Also being considered is the idea of providing scholarships for teachers who attend.

The center is constantly trying to find innovative ways to teach the teachers who are nominated from their schools to come to the center. They often partner with other USF groups to ensure the program is the best it can be.

Benjamin said other areas of the program could use more money.

“It would be nice to have more outreach programs for teachers. This is a gem and a wonderful opportunity; it would be great for more teachers to use. Thus, it would affect more classrooms,” she said.