Academy Prep of Lakeland, a new tuition-free, private middle school, is scheduled to open this summer for students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch and can pass an admissions test.
LAKELAND — Academy Prep of Lakeland, a new tuition-free, private middle school, is scheduled to open this summer for students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch and can pass an admissions test, Head of School Lincoln Tamayo said Friday.
The school is having a “building up ceremony” Monday at what was once the Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine Building at the corner of Lakeland Hills and Memorial boulevards. The building began its life as John Cox Elementary School and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We purchased the property in late June and we actually started construction a month, month and a half ago,” Tamayo said. “Lakeland has a relatively large population of children who are in need of true educational choice.”
To be eligible to attend Academy Prep, a student must:
• Qualify for the federal free or reduced price meals program.
• Score at least a 60 percent on an admissions test.
• Demonstrate good character.
• Demonstrate a commitment to succeed through the summer session.
The $17,500 annual tuition is paid through private scholarships and a “Step Up For Students” scholarship, created by the Florida Legislature to allow low-income children to attend a private school or public school outside of their district. Tamayo said families who qualify for the free or reduced price meal program will also qualify for a SUFS scholarship.
Academy Prep has two longtime campuses: one in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1997, and the second in Tampa, which began in 2003.
So why Lakeland?
“Because there is a need there — we have a strategic plan where we would like to expand our services to Lakeland, Sarasota-Bradenton and northern Pinellas County,” Tamayo said.
The school is different from a traditional public school. Students are in class from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and can stay for an optional study hall until 6 p.m. Uniforms are required and boys and girls attend separate classes — all to reduce distractions. Classes are college preparatory and nearly all Academy Prep students go on to a private prep high school and college.
Applicants with the strongest potential will be invited to attend Academy Prep's three-week summer session, June 10-28. Those who succeed academically and behaviorally during the summer will be invited to join the regular fall term that starts in August. The Lakeland campus will begin with 30 fifth-graders and 40 sixth-graders.
“The attendance rate of the Tampa and St. Pete campuses is the greatest of any public or private school in those counties — 98 percent per day,” Tamayo said. “That's a pretty special manifestation of the spirit of our kids. It speaks volumes to the kids and families who are seeking a great alternative.”
Some students who finish out their eighth-grade year at the academy have gone on to some of the most elite boarding schools in the country, including Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, St. George's School in Rhode Island, McCallie School in Tennessee and Blue Ridge School in Virginia.
“It has truly been spectacular what our students have accomplished in the last 20 years,” Tamayo said.
Destiny Grinder, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the Tampa campus, entered the school after attending three public elementary schools in the Bay Area.
“I like the environment — it's safe and I feel like I have people that believe in me and want me to excel,” Destiny said. “I didn't get that at my last school.”
She said she also likes the academically challenging courses at Academy Prep. And she is excelling at them, making all A's except for a C in math right now.
“I'm trying to get that up,” she said.
The students also have fun. Destiny explained that there are a number of enrichment classes, including art, music, cooking and sewing, along with sports teams.
Tynese Randolph said the school has changed the course of her life and those of her three children. Sterling, Levi and Candace Randolph all attended the Tampa school.
“For me, when I first came, my twins were at a public school and they excelled beyond what they were able to do for them," Randolph said. “I felt like I was sending my children to school and they weren't learning anything. They did what they could to accommodate them, but it wasn't challenging enough for them.”
Randolph said she knew she wanted to send her twin boys, now 23, and daughter, who graduates from high school this year, to a private school, but she couldn't afford it.
“When I found I was able to do that and they would be challenged the way they needed to be, that just meant the world to me,” Randolph said. Sterling graduated from FSU with a degree in meteorology, while Levi is studying ecology at the University of Florida. Candace has plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall where she will study something related to art.
Tamayo said the pay for teachers and staff meets or exceeds the Polk County School District's salary schedules and they also offer a matching 401(k) and paid vacations and holidays.
Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.