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PECS school year kicks off with new gym, media center

From left, Chairman James E. Billie, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., Louise Gopher, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola and Tribal Community Development Department Director Adam Nelson cut the ribbon Aug. 13 to the new Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School gymnasium and media center on the Brighton Reservation.

BRIGHTON — Open house for students and families of Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School featured a doubleheader celebration for the Brighton community and the entire Tribe.

“It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen so many good things open up out here in our cow pasture,” said Chairman James E. Billie before a ribbon cutting Aug. 13 at PECS’s sparkling new gymnasium and media center.

The two stand-alone additions, separated by a common breezeway on the campus’s north end, were built in less than a year.

Inside the gym, principal Brian Greseth addressed nearly 400 people who packed bleachers and lined walls that are decorated on the bottom with cheerful murals of ocean fish and on the top with Seminole warrior colors. School staff, dressed in PECS uniform code attire, flanked the room’s expansive stage.

Greseth provided the audience with back-to-school announcements that included cellphone rules, dress code reminders, and absence and tardiness warnings.

He also heralded last year’s successes at PECS, including a 93 percent daily attendance rate and a 95 percent pass rate in the Florida Standards Assessments tests for third-grade reading and seventh- and eighth-grade algebra tests. Additionally, PECS seventh-graders ended the year with the highest civics grades in the Heartland Education Consortium, which consists of six area county school districts.

FCAT grades for the 2014-15 school year will be announced before winter break.

“Our parents, students and teachers are consistently doing a good job. We’ve always been A or B in FCAT grades,” Greseth said.

Several elected officials, including Chairman Billie, offered congratulatory words before the crowd filed to the breezeway for the ribbon cutting. Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. credited PECS administrators and teachers for making the school successful. President Mitchell Cypress and Greseth singled out Louise Gopher for establishing the school’s first steps in 2001 as a weekly one-day cultural education program.

“The school has gone beyond my wildest dreams,” Gopher said. “I thought at first it would be a satellite campus, but we went by the way of charter school and it became so much more.”

Gopher helped cut the ribbon with elected officials and Greseth, all armed with super-sized scissors.

Ron Rudner, the Tribe’s Construction Management Department’s administrative services manager, said the 19,374-square-foot gymnasium features a regulation size basketball/volleyball court that can convert to two half courts; a music classroom; two sets of restrooms; and a large stage with lighting, backstage and big-screen projection.

“It’s got all the bells and whistles,” Rudner said.

Other features include a concession area and a spacious after-school, play-and-learn room for children too young to join Boys & Girls Club activities. The lobby doubles as the school’s hall of fame trophy display.

Harry Tewksbury, the school’s head baseball and assistant boys basketball coach, said the new gym gives student-athletes more time for books and balls. In the past, players had to walk from mandatory after-school homework programs to practice and games in the community gym, also shared with other tribal programs.

“Now, we have our own real home court and we’ll have more time for practice, games and studying,” he said. “It’s just a great thing for the kids to have their own gym; they will take a lot of pride in that.”

The new 6,898-square-foot media center, a quick skip from the gym, features hundreds of new books, a broadcast studio for student-led news and announcements, a teacher training area and a specialized reading assistance room for children who need extra help.

A section for new readers and elementary-level books is punctuated with orange overstuffed modular couches and ottomans that can be arranged to shape small or large reading zones. In the section for older students, several tables surrounded by wooden chairs that boast engraved motifs of the Tribe’s eight Clans allow ample seating.

Media specialist Alisha Pearce said cool posters and hip displays that dot walls and reading cubbies support this year’s reading theme, “Be a Reading Rock Star.” Book choices range from “Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes” to Lemony Snicket’s “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”

“Before, we had a regular classroom divided into two sections; now we have a real media center. This is a great improvement and we are excited about it,” Pearce said.

Chairman Billie said the two new additions came after months of meetings and discussions with Councilmen about budgets and needs.

“Now they are part of our school and the whole school system … Our school is standing out,” Chairman Billie said.