DENISE WATSON BATTS
Students and teachers are ready even if the private school's campus isn't. Classes carry on amid construction.
Teacher Sherri Brownkatz moved from new desk to new desk, checking on her 15 girls.
"Good," she said with a gentle pat on one back, as a student answered questions about the novel, Dear Mr. Henshaw.
She moved to the next. "Did you correct your grammar? Good."
The all-girls class at Academy Prep Center of Tampa worked in silence Monday amid the sounds of a school rising around them. Outside, drills whined as workers put final touches on the new campus.
The private academy began classes Aug. 6 in borrowed space at Tampa Preparatory School but moved into new digs in the east Tampa neighborhood of V.M. Ybor this week. This is the first year for the school, an affiliate of a campus in St. Petersburg, but the third home for students who began summer classes at another temporary campus before moving to Tampa Prep.
Lincoln Tamayo, who heads the school, was glad to finally put out welcome mats on Monday morning.
"The ship has finally arrived in its port," Tamayo said.
Academy Prep opened with 30 fifth-graders - 15 boys and 15 girls - who study in same-sex classes in two wings built behind the historic V.M. Ybor Grammar School on E Columbus Avenue. The school will enroll 30 students each year until it reaches a maximum of 120 students in grades 5 through 8.
It is part of a national network of private schools created to offer a tightly focused, disciplined environment for students at risk of being passed over in a traditional school, Tamayo said.
Prospective Academy Prep students must qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program to apply, go through interviews and attend a four-week summer program.
The school day begins with breakfast at 7:15 a.m. The academic program ends at 3 p.m. but students must take extracurricular classes of karate, drama and chess until 5. There are field trips two Saturdays a month and parents are required to volunteer 50 hours a year. Tuition money comes from donations, corporate support and foundations.
Work on the two wings and an outdoor pavilion, near completion, includes second-floor rooms for teacher planning and for AmeriCorps volunteer teachers who will live on campus. Renovation of the grammar school, which will eventually include administration, an auditorium, a library and a technology lab, is expected to be completed in November.
Phone service still was being installed Monday and classrooms awaited decoration but Tamayo said the key ingredients were in place: disciplined students, excited teachers and plenty of hope.
"We need to support the right of every child to an equal opportunity to an education," Tamayo said. "So we offer them a very rich program and then it is up to them to take advantage of it."