Academy Prep recruits middle school students for STEM classes and beyond

ST. PETERSBURG – Heads up, parents!  Academy Prep St. Petersburg, a middle school, is recruiting interested students for the 2015-16 school year, and an Open House for incoming fifth and sixth graders is scheduled for Mon., Feb. 23 at 6 p.m.  The school’s mission is to serve its neighborhood and focus on impacting families who qualify for Step Up.

People who visit the campus often ask how or why its students are successful. The answer is strategy and dedication. Students not only have an extended school day to include everything needed, but each school day is scheduled differently with enhancement courses in English and math.

“We recognize each student’s individuality, and there is nothing cookie-cutter about Academy Prep,” said Gina Tanase Burkett, Head of School.

For example, not all students perform at their best in the morning. Therefore, core subjects are taught in a different time slot each day to give students the opportunity to be taught at their peak periods for learning and performance.

In addition, outside-the-box courses designed to promote critical thinking, creativity and personal discipline are integrated throughout the school day to help with student attention spans and physical activity that can promote learning.

“We educate the whole child to ensure our students are well-rounded,” Burkett said. “Everything is designed with the student in mind.”

The school’s curriculum is multifaceted, with rigorous instruction in language arts, social studies, math and science. Budget woes in the public schools increasingly cause liberal arts courses to be cut, but Academy Prep continues to enhance and increase its offerings. The school’s roster also includes chess, Spanish, karate, organic gardening, cooking, sewing/knitting, piano, sign language, golf and tennis.

Academy Prep’s new state-of-the-art STEM lab (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) blends robotics with analytical and critical thinking skills to encourage students toward science careers.  The program encourages students to become scientists, techies, engineers and mathematicians.

Currently, minorities are underrepresented in those fields, and Academy Prep aims to change that. EMC Corporation, a global technology firm, funded the lab and brought high school freshman robotics prodigy Daniela Rodriguez to the lab’s unveiling Tues., Feb. 10 to encourage students to pursue the field.  Daniela is in the STEM Hall of Fame.

“We want to engage our students early by offering a STEM curriculum in middle school so they can use their knowledge and build upon it in high school and college,” Burkett said.  “Our kids are incredibly talented, and STEM lays the groundwork for future success in these professions.”

Burkett, who served 17 years at another local private school as a middle school and high school principal, is well aware of the level students must achieve in order to be admitted into preeminent private schools. “If our students come to us with an academic deficit or have achieved at a level where they are ready for greater challenges, our curriculum strategically meets those needs.”

Since Academy Prep promotes from its own neighborhood, some of the same schools within its radius are the schools that the Tampa Bay Times reports as the lowest in the nation. This does not discourage Academy Prep from opening its doors to students coming from those schools, but at the same time, the administration realizes that strategies have to be in place to get those students to grade level.

“Even when a child has passing grades from one of these schools, the child may still have below grade level performance when compared to the rest of the nation,” Burkett said. “Our goal is to ensure each and every student meets or exceeds his/her grade level, especially as we encourage them to apply to the top high schools.”

Academy Prep’s results are impressive, due to its rigorous classes and extended school day. After graduation, most students are accepted at respected private and boarding schools. All students complete high school in four years, turning Pinellas County’s achievement gap on its head.

A service that is unmatched with any other middle school is Academy Prep’s graduate support team.  They teach students how to research top high schools and colleges, and then encourages them to apply to full-scholarship programs that further their educational goals.  This support follows students financially, emotionally and strategically for at least eight years after students graduate from Academy Prep.

For the last seven years, 100 percent of Academy Prep alumni have graduated from high school on time. The goal is to see all of these students graduate college and become leaders in their communities.  More than 75 percent of Academy Prep’s high school graduates have earned college degrees.

EMC Corp. visited Academy Prep St. Petersburg earlier this school year and saw the potential to bring technology and robotics into the science curriculum. The STEM lab includes state-of-the art computers and software, science tables, hand-held equipment and gauges, robotic kits, with an evidence-based curriculum specifically designed to integrate with the school’s science curriculum through A Vision of Hope Youth Network of Pinellas County.

The Hope curriculum focuses on hands-on activities that build and engage students’ analytical and critical thinking skills while developing interests in biology, science, meteorology, oceanography, civil engineering, marine biology and mechanical industrial technology. Hope also plans to utilize Project – Lead the Way and VEX robotics.

Academy Prep partners with outside organizations to integrate unique offerings that promote a well-rounded education. Partners include Raymond James, Modern Business Associates, TradeWinds, Regions Bank, The Links, The Lightening Foundation, First Tee, and Enterprise Village, among a few.

Academy Prep is now taking applications for current fourth and fifth graders. Families must qualify for Step Up, a needs-based scholarship. Academy Prep provides FREE TUITION to attend this unbelievable program.

For information about how to qualify for Step Up, please visit www.stepupforstudents.org. For more information about Academy Prep St. Petersburg, please visit the school’s website academyprep.org/stpete/, visit during Open House, or call to schedule a personal tour at (727) 322-0800.

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