Typical middle school clubs might involve the same group of high achievers joining in multiple groups to celebrate their successes, give back to their communities and start prepping their resumes for the inevitable, if still far-off, college applications.
At Liberty Middle School in Tampa Palms, however, clubs are designed to include all students, offered once a month as part of the school day.
Spanish teacher Katie Smith is the coordinator for Liberty’s clubs program. “The entire school is following the same schedule,” she says, “so all of the kids get to participate.”
She explains that the clubs were started to provide extra support for some students who may not have role models at home.
“We want to give them a chance to find people they can connect with, adults they don’t regularly interact with, or peers with similar interests,” says Smith. “We want them to make connections and have a reason why they like to come to school.”
Katie credits Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who attended Liberty (see story, pg. 1), with planting the seed that grew into the school’s clubs. She recalls him visiting Liberty a couple of years ago and telling the teachers how having opportunities to build relationships with people who cared about him made a huge difference in his life.
“He started a conversation about reaching those kids, and that’s where I got the idea,” Katie says.
Liberty students can choose from more than 35 club options, which may focus on interests such as art, calligraphy, board games, guitar, sports and science. Other clubs focus on community service or helping students to be the best versions of themselves.
One unique club is the “Gentlemen’s Club,” led by physical education teacher Bryan Erwine and school resource officer Victor Moreta. “They focus on what it means to be a man — a gentleman — and the power of believing in yourself and how you show yourself to the world,” Katie explains. “Some kids are hand-picked to be in that group because they show leadership potential and need a little coaxing. Once they’re in there, the two men running the group are amazing, so kids really want to connect with them.”
Students from the Rescue Me! Pet Club will visit the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on March 2. They were invited on the field trip after dropping off collected donations back in December.
Susan Stabile, a school counselor who co-sponsors the club, says her students are excited for their behind-the-scenes tour of the facility and that she hopes all 50 club members will attend. “We hope that our students will be lifelong animal advocates and inspire others as well,” Susan explains.
These kind of connections are exactly what Katie hopes the clubs will foster. She says she hopes to bring the community into the school to further enhance the goals of the clubs. “We’re trying to reach out to the community so people can see what’s going on and how the community can shape and empower these kids with their involvement.”
She adds, “It’s great to have teachers, but for some clubs, like our food club, is there a restaurant owner who wants to work with the kids? Are there athletes who want to help with our sports clubs?”
If you’d like to help in any way, email Katie Smith for more information at Kaitlyn.Smith@sdhc.k12.fl.us.
MATHCOUNTS Team Advances To States: Liberty Middle School’s MATHCOUNTS team finished second out of 17 teams at the Regional competition on Feb. 2, earning the team a spot in the State competition, which will be held on Thursday, March 22, in Daytona Beach.
“Liberty has been participating in MATHCOUNTS for the past 10 or so years,” says coach Melissa Grier, a Liberty math teacher. “We have advanced to the State competition the last three years straight and are known in MATHCOUNTS circles as the team to always beat.”
Eighth-grade student Charley Cheng also finished second overall in the individual competition. “He actually had the highest individual score but lost in a head-to-head competition with the second place finisher,” explains Melissa.
Charley and eighth grade student Derek Wu also were on last year’s team, which went to the States, too.
Seventh-grade student Shreya Gullapalli and sixth-grade student Vignesh Saravanan also are on the team.
“These kids are wonderful,” says Melissa. “They are incredibly humble and they all share a love for mathematics.”
The MATHCOUNTS team from Benito Middle School on Cross Creek Blvd. finished in sixth place, with Saanvi Prasad, a seventh-grader, earning the sixth highest individual finish.