Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary: Not just a school but a legacy

By Rebecca Bryan

Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary School opened its gates back in August 2003 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Named after the legendary Douglas L. Jamerson Jr., the school stands proudly in Pinellas County as a magnet school with specific concentrations on engineering and mathematics. 

This unique curriculum allows students to engage in hands-on activities that spark the inner creativity within them all. With blended Pre-K, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classes, Communication Disorder (CD) programs and other special services, Jamerson has an opportunity for every student.

Douglas Lee Jamerson Jr., also known as “Tim” to his friends and family, was a renowned Florida Commissioner of Education. His inspiration for success was inspired by his home life. 

He grew up in the poor neighborhoods of St. Petersburg and went to Bishop Barry High School where he was the first black student that attended. He received two degrees, one from St. Petersburg Junior College and one from the University of South Florida. 

Jamerson was honored to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1982, where he served five and a half terms. Unfortunately, he died of cancer in 2001. With these superb achievements, the school on 37th St. S was proudly named after the man who once made history. 

The school also offers outstanding extracurriculars, like music classes, where students can play several instruments such as piano, xylophone and drums. 

Jamerson is known especially for the Jamerson Jammers, a large group of kids who get together once a week and practice playing the drums, and perform the songs at school concerts. It is a spectacular outlet for the kids, allowing them to connect to music and friends.

“The best thing about drumming is learning to be a part of a team, and that they have to work together,” Marie Hill, the music teacher at Jamerson, said. She has been the music teacher at the school for 17 years. 

“It’s helped me relax in times, like when I’m frustrated, I just think about the songs… and then I get to relax.” Chase Itzo, a fourth grade student at Jamerson Elementary, said.

Another long-term staff member of Jamerson Elementary is Judy Bryan. Although she has moved on to a different school, she worked at Jamerson for 11 years as the data management technician, and she is going on 17 years in the Pinellas County School system this upcoming September. Throughout her years at Jamerson, some of her biggest takeaways were the connections she’s made with the students.

“I loved being a mentor to several of the 5th grade girls. We would talk about their home life, do crafts together, and enjoy each other’s company. I could tell it really made a difference, and it did for me, too. Creating a bond with these kids really changed my life,” Bryan said. One of the most exceptional programs at the school  is the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) program, which helps students with autism learn to verbalize through their own unique way of communication. 

Not everyone with autism can be put in the same box and be able to learn with the same methods. Jamerson makes sure each child is given the opportunity to grow in their own way. 

“We had a child with autism who was nonverbal. He could think about what he needed to say, but was unable to speak. Jamerson was able to connect with Pinellas County schools and provide this student with a tablet that, at the push of a button, had different words and phrases. This tablet really changed his life, as he was finally able to communicate properly with his peers, teachers, and family,” Bryan said.

River Foster is a third grade student who has been attending since kindergarten. She is able to express her creativity through the different music and arts programs Jamerson provides. At 9-years-old, River thrives at her school and loves every second of it.

“I was hesitant at first, to let River attend Jamerson, because we had never heard of that school before,” Jennifer Foster, River’s mother, said. “However, I am so glad I did. She has made tons of friends, and gets along with all of her teachers. I never really hear her complain. She is always in a good mood when we pick her up from school. I feel like Jamerson really gives her the opportunity to be herself, which is really important for kids her age who are growing up. I would always recommend Jamerson to anyone looking for a school for their child.” 

Even River was excited to put in her two cents.

“I love Jamerson! I hope, when I’m in fourth grade, I can become one of the Jammers. I also hope that one day my art will be displayed in one of the hallways,” River said.

Jamerson started out as an area magnet school. That means, living within a certain mile radius of the school allows enrollment. Jamerson encouraged parents to enroll their students in a school that was built in a low-income area, to allow for a wide variety of students, creating a greater connection within the community. 

It was the only school at the time that offered an engineering and mathematics curriculum that was intertwined within all aspects of learning. In 2009, the current principal, Mary Jane Dan, applied for Jamerson to become a county-wide magnet school. Therefore, anyone in the county could attend. Jamerson was awarded this honor, and before long, it  had a long wait list of students applying.

After 18 long years of attendance, the school remains a significant site within the Midtown community.  With their special engineering and mathematics program, Jamerson is all about unifying the community and making a difference for every kid that attends.