In 1893, the Jesuit Fathers at Sacred Heart Church bought a piece of property on Morgan Street in Tampa. Their intention was to establish a school in the name of St. Peter Claver for children of the African American community. On Feb. 12, 1894, classes began. Unfortunately, only 10 days later, the school was destroyed by a fire that was intentionally set. In October of 1894, classes resumed in a temporary structure on the corner of Governor and Scott Streets that was purchased by Reverend William Tyrell, S.J., with the help of Bishop Moore. Over the years, as the school grew, they knew more space would be needed. In 1952, an annex was erected and dedicated in 1953. Today, St. Peter Claver Catholic is the oldest, continuously operating historically black grade school in Florida and provides a safe and nurturing environment.
That structure built in 1953 still stands and is where more than 170 children go to learn every day. The school accommodates children in early preschool (ages 3-4) through eighth grade. Thanks to one of the lowest teacher-to-student ratios in Florida, the school can serve every student one-on-one. Over the years, modular classrooms, a fully functioning science lab and a one-to-one iPad program have been added.
This year, the school has expanded its performing and visual arts programs and added a theatre program. “It’s a great form of expression,” says principal Dr. LaTonya White. They implemented a music program, vocal programs and, for the middle school, turbano drums. The school also has a strong athletics program with track, cross country, flag football, basketball and volleyball.
As for academics, the school takes a wholistic approach to education. “We use programs to meet the needs of our diverse learners,” says Dr. White. St. Peter Claver offers a challenging curriculum in math, science, language arts, social studies and religion. This year saw the enhancement of the English Language Arts curriculum, and next year, they will update their math program. They also have a 1:1 iPad Initiative program where all students in grades K-8 are given an iPad pre-loaded with Pearson textbooks and educational apps.
As the school gears up to celebrate its 130th anniversary, their mission remains the same as when they first opened their doors – a sanctuary of faith, hope and love where each child is prepared for their future in a supportive learning environment centered around God and nourished through Sacrament and Word. To learn more about St. Peter Claver Catholic, visit stpeterclavercatholicschool.org.
- The school’s original enrollment in 1894 was 16 students.
- More than 95% of their students are from low-income families.
- Events such as their Annual Gala and the Joe Capitano, Sr. Annual Golf Classic raise funds that go toward tuition assistance
St. Peter Claver Catholic School
1401 N. Governor St.
Tampa, FL 33602
Originally published in May 2022