LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – More than 100 construction workers are racing the clock to make sure a new middle school that aims to help children from low income families in Polk County is ready next month.
Academy Prep Center of Lakeland on Lakeland Hills Blvd. is set to open August 12th.
“I’d say we’re running about a week to a week and a half behind,” said Lincoln Tamayo, the head of school.
The Lakeland location follows two other Academy Prep schools in the Tampa Bay area: Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, which opened in 1997, and Academy Prep Center of Tampa, which opened in 2003.
Children from income-eligible families attend Academy Prep for free.
“You should not be relegated to whatever education the schools of your zip code can provide you. Parents, children, should have some kind of option, some kind of choice,” said Tamayo.
Their $17,500 annual tuition is paid for through donations.
Each school cost $2.3 – $2.5 million a year to operate, according to Tamayo.
Workers got a bit of a late start. They gained access to the building in April, Tamayo said.
They have spent months renovating the nearly century-old John Cox Elementary School, which had recently been used by Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine.
A new building has been constructed that houses a gymnasium/multipurpose room, cafeteria and apartments for AmeriCorps members and a Lakeland police officer.
While renovation work is completed during the first week or two of school, students will attend class in the gymnasium.
“We’ll just partition it off. If we have to run this school, this kind of program, out of a mud hut for the first week or two, we’ll do that,” said Tamayo.
The school will welcome approximately 75 5th and 6th graders this year and will expand to teach 7th and 8 graders within three years.
Students will go to school for 11 hours a day for 11 months out of the year.
Girls and boys are in different classrooms, with the same curriculum, to prevent distractions.
“They’re coming to us at least a year to two to three years less than grade level in math and in language. So we need to catch them up as fast as possible,” said Tamayo.
Tamayo boasts about Academy Prep’s track record for success, which includes bringing students’ learning level up to or exceeding grade level and students’ acceptance into college-prep high schools and onto college.
They target middle-schoolers for a reason.
“When is that last chance you have to save a child from going dead in the water, educationally? I use a historical term. I see those middle school years as the ‘Academic Dunkirk’, as the last chance they have to save them,” he said.