Academy Prep: More than a school

Academy Prep is now enrolling students who will be entering the fifth and sixth grades for the 2020-21 school year. If you would like to learn more about Academy Prep, plan on attending an upcoming Open House on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 5:30-6:15 p.m. or Thursday, April 14, from 5:30- 6:15 p.m.

ST. PETERSBURG — Once a year, a very special reunion takes place on the Academy Prep campus, bringing together over 20 years of middle school graduates and their families to reminisce about their experience at the unique private middle school located on the south side of St. Petersburg. The day of love and laughter is deeply meaningful for Academy Prep graduates to be able to share with one another how their lives have been transformed.

Ask any graduate in the room to tell you why they continue to come back every year, and they will all say some version of the same sentiment – Academy Prep is more than a school. Academy Prep is their family; Academy Prep is their community, Academy Prep has always been a constant and their home away from home.

Since its founding in 1997, Academy Prep has been transforming the lives of middle school students qualifying for need-based scholarships by providing them a unique and enhanced model of tuition-free college preparatory education.

Starting from enrollment in either the fifth or sixth grade and continuing through graduation in the eighth grade, students attend Academy Prep — up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, 11 months a year — on full scholarships funded by individuals, businesses and foundations in the local St. Petersburg community.

The Academy Prep experience for these capable and deserving young people includes a rigorous academic curriculum, small class sizes, rewarding extra-curricular activities, weekend field trips, and a three-week academic summer program. It is through these shared experiences that deep bonds are formed among students, and they begin to feel more like family to one another, rather than just classmates. It is one of the many reasons graduates come back, give back, and feel like the campus is also their home.

Also, Academy Prep students receive a minimum of eight years of continued Graduate Support Services post-graduation. While enrolled at Academy Prep, the Graduate Support team provides intensive nurturing, guidance, and counseling emphasizing positive life choices, a college preparatory culture, and the development of life goals while ensuring students master academic and enrichment courses at the highest level.

Students develop educational and career goals and are then matched with advanced public high schools or private local college preparatory or boarding schools. Graduate Support monitors students‏’ progress throughout their high school and college careers, fostering successful transitions and outcomes by carefully following their academic progress and helping to address any challenges in their academic or personal lives.

Tonya Mathis, director of Graduate Support at Academy Prep, knows first-hand the life-changing impact of Academy Prep‏’s unique educational model. In 1997, she enrolled her son in Academy Prep‏’s first class of young men. She remembers when the school had just one building and a small, but dedicated staff who believed in her son and encouraged her to stretch out of her own comfort zone to allow Andrew to take advantage of the opportunities available to him.

After graduating in 2000, Andrew became one of the first Academy Prep graduates to attend boarding school. He went on to attend prestigious Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies. Andrew is currently working as a senior associate at Ward Circle Strategies, a business consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Tonya is very proud of her son, and as the new director of Graduate Support at Academy Prep, she is looking forward to giving back to the institution that helped her family by providing the tools to reach their goals and aspirations, including her own.

While Andrew was enrolled at Academy Prep, Tonya went back to school to earn her first degree from St. Petersburg College, and continued on to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and has worked with youth and families during life-changing transitions for the last 20 years. Tonya is looking forward to dedicating herself to the continued success of Academy Prep graduates, and she is motivated to help foster and grow the next generation of community leaders.

Academy Prep’s graduates are its best examples of the school’s successful model by continuing to work hard as they strive for excellence at every level. Roderick Casteel, Academy Prep Class of 2017, is currently a junior at Shorecrest Preparatory School. In addition to excelling in academics, he participates in Students Against Drunk Driving, Relay for Life, cross-country, and track and field.

Roderick is currently pursuing college applications to Howard, American, and Colgate Universities. Looking back on his Academy Prep experience, Roderick remembers finding confidence in himself and developing a positive attitude toward his education.

He feels that Graduate Support had the greatest impact on his journey by providing him with a continued relationship, a meaningful connection, and valuable, trusted advice. Roderick believes that ‏”Graduate Support helped me become the best version of myself by providing constant encouragement and accountability throughout my high school experience.”

Adrian Harris, Academy Prep Class of 2015, graduated from Northside Christian School in 2019 as a member of the National Honor Society, and as track and field state champion in the 400-meter event. Looking back on his experience, Adrian feels it was the little things at Academy Prep that made the most significant impact on his journey.

He believes the structure and support during his middle school years allowed him to grow into the person he is today and gave him the confidence he needed to make a strong first impression. Adrian knows that the rigorous academics at Academy Prep were the catalyst for his current success. 

‏”I felt academically prepared, and I know how to study. I am confident in my academic abilities,” he said.

Adrian is now a freshman at North Dakota State University, where he earned an athletic scholarship to compete on the track and field team.

Sara Young, Academy Prep Class of 2011, came to Academy Prep while in foster care and living in a group home. After graduation, she continued on to Chatham Hall, a private boarding high school in Virginia, on a full scholarship. She then obtained her degree in computer science at the University of Central Florida. 

She was accepted into a coveted and highly competitive internship program with Microsoft® during her senior year of college and was offered a salaried position with them, complete with a signing bonus and stock options post-graduation.

When asked about her Academy Prep experience and how it prepared her for her future success, she said, ‏”Academy Prep develops community leaders by giving every child a chance to succeed and a chance to figure out what they‏’re passionate about.”

The Academy Prep model achieves outstanding results as almost all students have gone on to graduate from high school on time, with the majority of those graduates attending advanced high school programs or earning scholarships to attend private or boarding prep schools.

Also, the majority of Academy Prep graduates have also gone on to attend post-secondary education or to serve in the armed forces. These outcomes, combined with the testimonials from Roderick, Adrian, and Sara, illustrate the successful approach of the Academy Prep program, along with the heart behind it all.  Academy Prep is more than a school. Academy Prep is a family. 

Academy Prep is now enrolling students who will be entering the fifth and sixth grades for the 2020-21 school year. If you would like to learn more about Academy Prep and how this unique model can transform your child’s future through education, you are welcome to attend an upcoming Open House on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 5:30-6:15 p.m. or Thursday, April 14, from 5:30- 6:15 p.m.

To R.S.V.P. or for more information about the enrollment process, please contact Anita Reece, admissions and scholarship coordinator, at (727) 322-0800 x 2105, by e-mail at, or by completing an inquiry form available on the school‏’s website at

The campus is located at 2301 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

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