By Rebecca Bryan
Elementary school years define a child’s life. The experiences during these stages help develop children’s personality traits, how they interact with others, how they respond to trauma and more.
Although to most it may become a far-off memory, these long years leave a mark on everyone, whether they realize it or not.
Elementary school students live through a number of experiences both at school and at home. These experiences may be easy to forget but they are also a big factor in how a child acts later in life as an adult.
Within the realms of St. Petersburg, lies a small, yet sturdy community called Midtown. Most drive through it without ever knowing it has a diverse history of African American achievement. Midtown takes up a large portion of the south side of St. Petersburg, but it covers enough ground to encompass many schools from elementary to college.
Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary resides almost right in the center of Midtown. The school has a specific concentration on mathematics and engineering, and offers special programs such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and blended Pre-K.
When Melissa Stanton, a retired elementary school teacher, first stepped foot in front of a classroom back in the 90s, her nerves raced. The little faces of her elementary school kids would soon calm her anxiety as she learned to connect to these children in many ways.
Any teacher could easily relate to this initial feeling of fear when encountering their first classroom full of excited kids. It gets easier with time as they continue to form bonds with the kids who light up their classroom.
Melissa Stanton worked at Jamerson for 17 years, starting when the school first opened. She taught kindergarten the entire time, loving the way her life became easily inspired by the kids around her. When she retired in 2019, she had an abundance of memories that have changed her life to this day.
“One child who stands out was a little girl who was just learning to speak English. Both her parents were from different Eastern European countries, so she was fluent in both languages. Her parents spoke very little English, and they were not able to help her with her homework,” Stanton said. “This little girl, like others in my class that were learning to read and write, not only became one of my top readers, but she was able to read and comprehend her homework assignments on her own. I was so impressed with her determination to conquer a new language on her own.”
Stanton came a long way from nervously standing in front of a classroom full of 20 kids. While her students were shaping their lives, they had no idea that they were also shaping Stanton, despite the age difference that stood between them.
“I had so many students who made a difference to me,” Stanton said. “In fact, every one of them.”
Zaria Johnson, a 21-year-old college student, spent her entire childhood at Jamerson. With it being close to home, she was able to walk to and from school every day. She loves the way Jamerson created such a unique childhood for her and recalls that time with nostalgia.
“I would wake up excited for school, which might seem weird to others,” Johnson said. “But I loved that school. As a kid, I didn’t have the best home life, and I still don’t, but Jamerson was able to take me away from that.”
With a smile on her face, Johnson added, “I thank Jamerson, honestly, with my upcoming graduation, for teaching me what I need to know today.”
Similar stories can be heard from 22-year-old insurance agent, Rachel Bryan. She spent most of her childhood at Jamerson, because her mother worked in the front office.
“Oh, yeah, are you kidding? Jamerson was practically my second home. When was I never not there?” Bryan said. “Sometimes I really wish I could go back to those days. My life seems to be nothing but stressful anymore, but back then, life was peaceful and fun. Being a student at that school was like being a part of a small community. Everyone knew each other and recognized your accomplishments.”
Midtown may be a small community but it houses opportunities for children to learn and grow.. Besides Jamerson,Perkins Elementary and Midtown Academy join the effort to inspire children and shape up their lives for a better future.