Lutz Elementary prepares to add seventh grade

Lutz Elementary launched a middle school program at the beginning of the school year and, now, it is gearing up to add seventh grade in the fall.

Lori Branham, principal at Lutz Elementary, is trying to get the word out about the school’s middle school program, which began with sixth grade this year and will add seventh next year. (B.C. Manion)

The school, at 202 Fifth Ave., S.E., in Lutz, began by adding sixth grade in the fall of 2018, and will add seventh grade in the fall of 2019. It will add eighth grade in 2020.

Each class has space for 110 students.

Its inaugural sixth-grade class had 67 students, meaning there are slots available in the seventh-grade class and will likely have some spots available in the incoming sixth-grade class, as well.

Parents who are interested in learning more about the program are invited to a parent information night on March 12, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., said Principal Lori Branham. The session will be in the school’s multipurpose room.

Branham said she believes that many people were not aware of the middle school program when it was time to decide where their children would attend middle school.

Noah Song, Georgia Crim and Gage Holeman participate in Ancient Olympic games.

“It was very quick. We started this process in February of last year. A lot of people had already made their choice as to where they were going to go,” she said.

She expects to have more students in the coming year’s sixth-grade class.

“I have 104 fifth-graders. Not all of them will come. Some of them are in Pasco County and they’ll go to middle school in their neighborhood.

“For the most part, most of our kids are coming back. So, we’ll have a much larger population next year, for our sixth grade,” she said.

Parker Jones said he enjoys being a sixth-grader at Lutz Elementary. Besides liking his classes, he also has enjoyed the school’s intramural program and not having to start over making friends at a new school.

Teacher Jennifer Shaffer, who has taught at the school for 17 years, is glad Lutz Elementary has added a middle school.

“I was all for it,” she said.  “My three children went here. They would have continued through eighth, if we had it.

“The community has always wanted a middle school. They’re a close-knit community. They wanted to have their children stay in the community,” she said.

Shaffer said the school’s middle school program features small classes.

“We know them (students) really well. We can help them meet their goals,” she said.

Students also have opportunities to do hands-on learning, she said. They switch classes and they have the chance to operate more independently than elementary students.

Plus, the middle-schoolers can serve as mentors to younger students, she added.

Jennifer Shaffer enjoys teaching middle school students at Lutz Elementary. She says the teachers and students know each other well, and they are able to do many hands-on activities.

“We’ve done things with other classes throughout the school,” she said.

For example, “I just sent a student — she did an oral interpretation of a story — so, I just sent her down to a first-grade class to do it,” she said.

“For the students, it was an easy transition, moving up to sixth grade,” Shaffer said. “One of our biggest challenges was having them feel like sixth-graders.”

The students switch classes and are allowed more freedom on campus, such as not having to walk in line to lunch, she said.

They also are involved in community service projects.

The day before Christmas break, we split our sixth grade, and half went to the senior center and half went to Feeding America, Shaffer said.

Eleven-year-old Parker Jones is glad that Lutz Elementary added a middle school program.

For one thing, he didn’t have to get to know a new group of friends, and he already knows teachers, there, too.

He enjoys school.

“I feel like the teachers really make what you do in class fun,” he said.

Katie Holeman, the president of the Lutz Elementary School PTA, is thrilled that the school added a middle school program that began this year. She thinks it’s great for family life, for families with multiple children. Plus, she said, the classes are small, and the teachers and students know each other well.

That’s even true in Spanish, which he didn’t think would be fun, he said.

He also enjoys the school’s intramural program, noting that he played flag football and volleyball, and plans to play basketball.

The sixth-grader also is president of the school’s Junior Civitan club.

Katie Holeman, president of Lutz PTA, has three children at the school — one in sixth grade, one in fourth grade and one in first grade.

“We’ve been here for seven years,” she said. “We were so excited when we found out last year that we were transitioning to K-8 (kindergarten through eighth grade).

“It’s great for family life, for people with multiple children,” she said.

Lutz Elementary offers a sense of community and a neighborhood feel, she said.

“All of the teachers know the kids. The kids know the teachers,” she said.

Branham observed: “The Lutz community, to me, is different from any other community in this county.”

It’s a tightknit place, with a strong sense of tradition, she said.

When the school did a fundraiser with engraved bricks, there was one brick representing the sixth generation of a family with Lutz roots, she said.

Parent Information Night
What: Parents can learn about the middle school program at Lutz Elementary School
Where: In the multipurpose room at Lutz Elementary School, 202 Fifth Ave., S.E.
When: March 12 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Info: (813) 949-1452

Published March 06, 2019

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