LaToya Jennings-Lopez (L) and principal Mike Gamble (R) speak to the crowd of spectators at Howard Bishop Middle’s UCF-certification celebration on Tuesday night. “The whole purpose of this is to serve all of our students,” Gamble said. (Cameron Parker/WUFT News)

Howard Bishop Middle School celebrates becoming a UCF-Certified Community Partnership School

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Howard Bishop Middle School celebrated becoming a UCF-Certified Community Partnership School on Tuesday night, its next step to improving the lives of students.

“The Community Partnership Schools™ model at Howard Bishop Middle is a long-term commitment among Children’s Home Society of Florida, Alachua County School District, Alachua County Health Department, Santa Fe College and the University of Florida, bringing together high-quality academics, health care, counseling, mentoring and more — right on site at the school where students and families are comfortable,” a press release by the Children’s Home Society of Florida explained.

The school originally implemented the model in 2017, which increased access to “health and wellness services, counseling, family engagement, and after school activities,” according to the release.

Becoming UCF-certified takes it one step further with additional funding.

“The Florida legislature has given us about $7.4 million to fund our schools. Currently, we’re at 36 schools, and we’re expanding,” said Dr. Tarcha Rentz, the program manager for UCF’s Center for Community Schools.

HBMS cheerleaders conclude Howard Bishop Middle’s UCF-certification celebration on Tuesday night with a performance. (Cameron Parker/WUFT News)

A major aspect of the model HBMS will use, which originally came from Evans High School in Orlando, places a focus on students’ mental health.

“I just love the model because you can’t miss a kid with these types of services,” said LaToya Jennings-Lopez, director of the community partnership school at Howard Bishop.

Howard Bishop principal Mike Gamble also explained that these partnerships are in place to give students services they need to be successful in school. This success has been a recent struggle for the school.

Howard Bishop fluctuated between A and B grades from 2000 to 2013 before dropping to a C grade in 2014. After four-straight years of being a B school, Howard Bishop dropped back to a C in 2022.

Additionally, Howard Bishop qualifies as one of the near 1,700 Title I schools in the state of Florida, which is defined as schools where at least 40 percent of students enrolled come from low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“The school was falling apart. Students weren’t really behaving appropriately. Teachers were overwhelmed with stress. And it sits in the community. It’s accessible. That’s what we generally look for,” Rentz said.

She explained that the center plans on requesting more funds for schools due to the success of community partnerships, especially at Howard Bishop , where students are already feeling the positive effects of community partnerships.

Student Nylan Patterson told the crowd about Noble Sheep, an educational group founded by two former UF students to help students develop leadership skills, saying his future is bright after working with them.

Enijah Stephens, another student, described how GNV Bridge, an after-school tutoring program, helped improve her reading levels.

HBMS students Nylan Patterson (L) and Enijah Stephens (R) speak about the current providers for community partnership to the crowd of spectators at Howard Bishop Middle’s UCF-certification celebration on Tuesday night. “I see my future, and it is bright,” Patterson told the crowd. (Cameron Parker/WUFT News)

The idea of bringing a community partnership program to Howard Bishop originated back in 2015, according to principal Mike Gamble.

“The whole purpose of this is to serve all of our students,” Gamble told the crowd of spectators in the school’s cafetorium Tuesday night. “All of our students, wherever they come from, have tremendous potential. Our job is to help them achieve that potential.”

The certification process didn’t begin until the spring of 2021, but had to be delayed due to extensive construction on the campus, according to Children’s Home Society of Florida senior director John Sherman.

The certification process began the following November, Sherman said. The certification itself, which was approved after the school satisfied 12 requirements, will last for five years, according to the press release.

With the certification in place, and students already feeling the effects of community partnership, the next step is to take the program and similar entities to other schools in the county.

“We’re looking to continue to grow, but we want to grow outside of these walls,” Jennings-Lopez said. “We’re looking at possibly hubbing or satelliting other programs to other schools. We’re looking to have more conversations to bring more people to the table. To talk about our county, not only our school, and how do we make the lives of students better district-wise.”

About Cameron Parker

Cameron is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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