Katie Camario

A Space for Teens and Young Adults to Thrive

Caption: Morning Star Catholic School, Pinellas Park, welcomed students into the brand-new Achievement Center building on August 22, 2022. (photo credit/ Morning Star Catholic School)

September 12, 2022 | When Keith was in 6th grade, his parents noticed a profound sadness about him when he was dropped off and picked up from his neighborhood middle school. 

“He used to cry when he had to go to school,” said his mother Penny, “It was heartbreaking. I didn't know why, and he couldn't articulate why he was unhappy.” 

Verbal communication doesn’t come easy for Keith because of developmental challenges. After completing a year in middle school, the family transferred him to Morning Star Catholic School in Pinellas Park, a school dedicated to serving students with a variety of learning challenges and related difficulties. 

“When I picked him up that first day, he skipped out of the school and into the car. I just felt like, okay, he has found his place in the world. Now he loves coming to school. He gets mad when we have a holiday and he can't come to school,” said Penny. 

As Keith made his way through high school, his mother was concerned about what he would do following the completion of 12th grade. Her worries were eased when the school announced the addition of a critically needed Achievement Center. There, students like Keith can continue their schooling to acquire life and work skills up to age 22.

Construction of the 3,500 square foot facility was completed last month with a cost of $1.5 million dollars. It houses three classrooms dedicated to the growing high school student population, with another two providing space for young adult students. 

“I was relieved to hear,” she said. “As special needs parents, we all think, what are we going to do after high school? What are we going to do when they turn 18?”

Keith is now 19 years old. He joins eight other students as the inaugural class of the newly opened Achievement Center. Each day, they meet to learn life skills, build on their friendships and practice their faith next door at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. 

“The goal is for them to be independent. Being independent looks different for everyone. Some of our kids will always live with their parents, some of our kids could get a job, and with assistance, have their own place to live,” said Principal Sue Conza. “We want them to be successful as young adults when they go out into the world.” 

Penny is optimistic about Keith’s future and she is happy he will continue to develop his life skills at Morning Star. 

“This is where he belongs. He's just such a kind, gentle soul,” she said. “He's happy, he's learning and he gets the faith-based instruction. It’s just everything a parent wants.” 

Morning Star Catholic School is still in need of donations to help pay for construction of the building. They are also accepting partnerships with those who can provide on the job training or other support to the students.

To find out more about the school, or to find out how to donate or partner with the school visit: http://morningstarschool.org

Previous Articles:

Pinellas County Catholic School for Children with Special Needs is Expanding