In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education (1969) the United States Supreme Court mandated immediate desegregation of public schools. This followed delays in desegregating schools after the Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional.
During this delay, only 25-40 students at Gifford High School transferred to Vero Beach High School. (It is here say, but these students may have either been recruited for or sought out athletic programs).
Gifford High School used to be what is now the Gifford Middle School.
At the end of the 1969 academic year, following the Supreme Court ruling, Gifford High School closed and at the beginning of the next school year its 792 students were integrated into the Vero Beach High School.
In 1969 the graduation rate for Gifford High School students was 92%. By 1996, the graduation rate for Gifford students dropped to 23%. According to Freddie Woolfork, currently Director of Public Relations and Facility Operations at The Gifford Youth Achievement Center and previously Director of Program development since it opened in 1998, “education is a three-legged stool. One leg is the teacher, one leg is the student and one leg is the parent.”
What Mr. Woolfork believed caused the decline in the graduation rate was the missing parent leg.
Parents of Gifford students were hesitant to integrate themselves into the Vero High School community and meet with teachers, go to sports and other events and basically get involved. Many may have been intimidated, were not educated themselves and were working to make a living. Their children were dropping out for a variety of reasons such as not feeling accepted.
Something had to be done.
In 1996 three visionaries stepped up to found the Gifford Youth Activity Center, where Gifford students at Vero Beach High School could go after school, to play sports, socialize, learn, and develop intellectually. Moreover it would be a place where parents would feel comfortable to participate in their children’s educational growth.
The three Vero Beach visionaries were Daniel K. Richardson, who brought philanthropy to the table, Dr. William “Bill’ Nigh, who was concerned with moral vision and graduation ratios and A. Ronald Hudson, a former Indian River County Schools Assistant Superintendent who brought educational skills.
In 1998 the Gifford Youth Activity Center opened its doors. (Now called the Gifford Youth Achievement Center.)
In Part 2 we will concern ourselves with the activities of the Center, the number of students enrolled, curriculum, and its general structure.
But the bottom line is largely – or primarily – due to the Center, the graduation rate for Gifford students at Vero Beach High School students is now 65-67%.
We extend a special thanks to Freddie Woolfork for his contribution to this article.