Florida International University

A 15-year-old student who was suspended twice from Miami Springs Senior High School for disrespecting teachers and failing to wear the proper school uniform says she now wants to be a teacher.

Calvisha Young visited the assistant principal’s office for disciplinary reasons twice in one year. After her first violation, a teacher recommended an out-of-school suspension program to the teen’s mother, Mary Rawls.

Rawls took Calvisha to the Family Assistance to Suspension Termination (F.A.S.T) program at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, where the teen spent a 10-day suspension. After a second suspension, Calvisha told her mother she wanted to spend the time with F.A.S.T.

“I took her the first time, but the second time she wanted to go,” Rawls said. “She
enjoyed being over there because of the one-on-one attention she got there. That is something I believe is missing at the bigger schools.”

Rawls said Calvisha’s second experience with the F.A.S.T program changed her daughter.

“She wants to stay in school now, and also wants to keep her grades up,” Rawls said.
“Recently, she told me she wants to be a teacher, and I believe all of this is coming from the F.A.S.T program.”

The Tacolcy Center established the F.A.S.T Program in 1993 in response to an initiative by the Florida Juvenile Justice Task Force aimed at reducing juvenile delinquency in the state.  The program now assists some 140 suspended students yearly.

High school students who have been suspended from their schools for fighting and/or other disciplinary violations attend three to 10 full days of counseling and tutoring at the center where, according to Horace Roberts, a F.A.S.T coordinator, they learn conflict resolution skills to help them avoid repeat violations and suspensions.

The center checks in with students and their parents 30, 60 and 90 days after they leave the program, to see how they’re doing.

F.A.S.T was established with a $58,000 grant from the Juvenile Justice Task Force. It now receives $51,000, part of grants to the Tacolcy Center from The Children’s Trust Fund, United Way and the city of Miami.

The decrease, according to Denise Rainey of the Tacolcy Center finance department, is due to cuts in the center’s overall funding, from $1.2 million to about $900,000, largely due to reduced property tax revenues, the result of the recent slump in the real-estate market. The result is less money for all of Tacolcy’s  programs.

Despite the cuts, the F.A.S.T program continues to positively impact the lives of about 75 students each week.

“We are not here for the grants; we are here for the kids, and we tell them don’t come back,” said Jacqueline Clenance, the center’s chief program officer.

While some students like Calvisha Young return to the F.A.S.T program because of a second out-of-school suspension, coordinators say they feel proud of the majority of students who participate, and are positively impacted on their first visit.

“I had a student who was suspended and sent here because she was involved in a big group fight,” said Jahdai Dawes, another F.A.S.T. coordinator. “We put her through our curriculum. After she returned to her school, we learned through our initial follow-up that a group of students were inciting her to fight again, but instead of fighting, she notified the assistant principal. Her taking that stand was really encouraging to me.”