A new charter public school is under construction in the Union Park subdivision, in Wesley Chapel, that will offer a nontraditional approach to education.
For one thing, it will be technology rich.
For another, it won’t have traditional classroom spaces or furniture.
And, even though it encourages the use of technology, students won’t be allowed to bring cellphones to school.
Union Park Charter Academy, being built at 32775 Oldwoods Ave., is set to open for kindergarten through sixth grade this fall. It will add seventh grade the following school year, and eighth grade the year after that, said Tracy Ware, principal.
Because it’s a charter school, it is open to applications from throughout the Pasco County school district, as well as students from adjacent districts.
“We went through the lottery process,” Ware said. Applications are still being accepted for all grades, but there is a wait list for kindergarten and fifth grade.
“We’ve been encouraging parents to get the information in as soon as possible,” she added, so the school can reserve a spot for their child or children.
“What sets us apart is really the design of the school,” she said. “Instead of having separate classrooms, there are learning communities.”
For example, all third-graders are in a single learning community. There also will be learning labs within those learning communities.
Some learning labs will accommodate groups of around 25 students, which allows a teacher to focus on a particular learning standard; others are designed for smaller groups, to encourage collaboration between students.
The furniture is different, too. Instead of traditional desks and chairs, children will have choices.
“They can work at high tables, for instance, or can sit with their legs crossed on the floor, with a little stand to use their iPad in front of them. The tables that we have are actually writeable surfaces on their top,” she said.
Teachers in each learning community will work together as a team, sharing the entire group of students. That arrangement fosters the opportunity to tailor instruction to each individual student, Ware said.
Teachers and students work together to create a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP). The plans are used at each grade-level and are designed to track an individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and progress in attaining a year’s worth of learning (or more), according to information provided by the school.
This process empowers students to establish and track learning goals, conduct student-led conferences, and make informed decisions as learners. Most importantly, students are challenged with the responsibility of understanding their data and learning needs in meeting or exceeding grade-level standards.
Ware, who spent the past five years in Abu Dhabi, is excited about opening the new school in Wesley Chapel.
Many parents have told her they’re pleased to have a new school within walking distance, she said.
Teachers will help children discover how they learn best, she said. The idea is to identify their learning styles and give them opportunities to embrace it, she said, “versus a more traditional way of doing school.
“There’s one-on-one technology for third grade and up,” she added.
The school will have certified teachers, and students must meet all of Florida’s standards. The school also will follow Pasco County’s school calendar and will use the school district’s meal service.
After school, there will be many options for children, she said, including a variety of clubs which could include theater, music, cooking, karate or other pursuits.
“We’ll send a survey to find out what the children’s interests are,” she said.
“Parents have asked for a little time for homework,” Ware said, so that will happen.
The school day lasts an hour longer than the district’s school day, so children attending Union Park will receive an extra hour of instruction, she said.
The before-care program starts at 6:45 a.m., in response to parent feedback, she said.
Dismissal starts at 2:45 p.m., for kindergarten through second-grade and their siblings. It begins at 3 p.m., for third grade through sixth grade.
“We’ll work with the local day care programs,” she added.
“The ultimate goal is innovation. I want our children to be given the opportunity to create. I also want teachers to be empowered to make decisions based on the children that are in front of them right now, what their needs are, how to best pull from all of this technology,” Ware said.
The school wants to set a tone that encourages parents to be involved in the Parent Teacher Cooperative, Ware said.
The aim is to create a culture that invites a close working relationship between the school and parents, said Ware, who noted that it’s already evident that parents want to be involved.
“Parents are ready. They want to participate,” the principal said.
For more information about the school, visit UnionParkAcademy.org.
Published April 25, 2018