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Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center debuts pre-K classroom

Bill DeYoung



Dr. Celeste Collins (holding scissors) cuts the ribbon on the Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center's VPK classroom. She is flanked by dignitaries, sponsors, supporters and members of the Sanderlin staff. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

Celebration was in the air at the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center Tuesday afternoon, as Executive Director Celeste Collins and others from her administrative family cut the ceremonial ribbon on the facility’s new voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) classroom.

Equipped with developmental screenings and specialized staff, the VPK classroom focuses on the earliest of early education. The Sanderlin Center has formed partnerships with ReadStrong Pinellas, the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas and Hillsborough, Help Me Grow, Pinellas County Schools, ReadStrong Pinellas, Sing Out and Read and others.

Dr. Celeste Collins

“Education has been described as the Great Equalizer,” Collins told the Catalyst. “And for some of our students, we definitely have to level the playing field, to give them an opportunity to catch up to where their peers are.”

“This classroom is going to have a small student/teacher ratio, which will allow us to differentiate instruction, and give them opportunities to build their vocabulary; we’re already talking about field trips they’ll go on, coding and so much more.”

A grant for $432,499 from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete and Orlando Health Bayfront Hospital was used to create the classroom, and stock it with new learning tools and equipment.

Dr. Kanika Tomalin is President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete.

Equity, explained Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kanika Tomalin, is at the center of her organization’s mission. “People might ask, what does VPK have to do with equity?” Tomalin said during her time at the microphone. “What does early learning have to do with health?

“And the answer is quite simple: Absolutely everything. We need to start as early as possible making a difference in the lives of the children in our community.”

Said Deborah Figgs-Sanders, chair of the St. Petersburg City Council: “Us proud grandparents understand the importance of literacy. Understand the importance of education. Understand the importance of intentionality when it comes to our babies.

“When it comes to understand what the shortcomings are that continue to keep our children lacking and behind, we have to make sure we put forth all the effort to ensure the resources, all the assistance, all the guidance that not only they need – but their parents as well.”

Once children have moved past the VPK classroom, Collins said, “they will be kindergarten-ready, which is going to prepare them for not only kindergarten, elementary and graduation, but beyond.

“The more opportunities that kids have to use their vocabulary, build their vocabulary and interact with each other, the better off they are.”

She also discussed the center’s future expansion plans. The Sanderlin Center is a single 70-year-old building, on five acres at 2335 22nd Avenue S.

What’s envisioned is demolition of the existing structure, followed by construction of a new Sanderlin Center that will include a clinic or a grocery store – and, hopefully, affordable housing.

“The plan,” Collins said, “will be done this summer, and once we have the plan, that’ll give us the opportunity to fundraise. Because folks want to see a shovel-ready project.

“I’m really pushing my board, but I’m going to say in about two years, we’ll be done building.”















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    Karyn Mueller

    April 2, 2024at3:05 pm

    The Sanderlin Center is so amazing, thank you to everyone involved!

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