Classes won’t start until Aug. 24, but the staff at Pinecrest Academy Wesley Chapel has been setting the stage to create a place where education is engaging.
Drop in to the new charter school, at 33347 State Road 54, and you’ll be greeted by a sign at the front desk that reads: “I’m not here to be average, I’m here to be awesome.”
If you sit in the waiting area, you’ll see another sign, this one in the words of Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
The new school, near the entrance to Avalon Park Wesley Chapel, is opening for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Plans call for the school to serve through eighth grade.
Principal Aimee Mielke gave a reporter from The Laker/Lutz News a sneak peek of the school recently, discussing the charter school’s features and curriculum.
Classes don’t start until next week, but the pent-up excitement about opening the new school is almost palpable.
The classrooms are designed for face-to-face instruction, but built-in cameras and microphones enable teachers to provide real-time, distance learning to students who are studying at home.
“Students are receiving live instruction,” Mielke said. “It is like you’re in school.”
“Students will actually log on in the morning. They take the entire day with their teachers, in a live format,” she said. “They do it using a secure single sign-on, that we have specific to our school, called Collegia.”
Throughout the two-story building, there are accent walls in shade of blue and green that add a pop of color, as you pass down the corridor.
In the art room, steel buckets appear to be pouring out colors — represented by colorful fabrics. A sign in that second-story room sets out the expectations:
- A is to Aim to do your best.
- R is to Respect yourself, your peers, the art studio.
- T is to Trust in yourself and your ability to learn.
In a kindergarten classroom on the first floor, a display board awaits the “amazing work” coming soon.
The new Wesley Chapel charter school is part of the Pinecrest Academy Inc. network, which has developed a reputation for excellence, Mielke said. All of the Pinecrest schools are A-rated schools.
The school will have “extreme high expectations for instructional practices,” the principal said, and will offer students more than typical opportunities to broaden their learning.
For instance, both Spanish and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will be part of the curriculum delivered to every student, she said.
The maximum enrollment this year is 649, and some openings remain. The school’s maximum capacity is over 1,200, giving it plenty of room to grow.
The extra space is coming in handy this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school will be using its cafeteria, but it is also able to convert some empty classrooms into additional lunchrooms.
That way, Mielke said, “students can still enjoy the ability to sit with friends, and teachers still have the ability to eat with their teams.
“Obviously, the most important thing is safety. That’s the bottom line. But, I really wanted also to protect our teachers’ time, as well.
“With everything going on, it adds that much stress, so whatever I can do to kind of decrease that, I’m trying to do,” she said.
Opening a new school during the midst of a pandemic has its challenges, Mielke said.
“Everybody is going to be nervous, so it’s really about addressing that, as an administrator. “Understanding the social-emotional part of that,” she said.
However, she added: “We have many, many, many things that we’re putting in place from, obviously, masks, to arrows in the hallway, to stickers that say to stand 6 feet apart.”
Another challenge is the ongoing roadwork on State Road 54. An expansion project of the road was expected to be finished before the school opened, but that hasn’t happened.
Mielke said she had a meeting scheduled last week with a supervisor of the Florida Department of Transportation, to discuss the issue.
When school opens, she expects an officer to be directing school traffic to the appropriate entrance off of State Road 54, into the school campus.
Because of COVID-19, the school wasn’t able to have the kindergarten camp it had planned, or the school tours. And, it had to postpone the celebratory ribbon cutting.
But, Mielke said that she and her staff are eager to open the school, and welcome students.
“Our job is to be flexible,” she said.
“You’re going to try to make your families as happy, as comfortable, as you can,” she said.
Pinecrest Academy Wesley Chapel, K-6
33347 State Road 54, Wesley Chapel
Principal: Aimee Mielke, (813) 355-0002
Other area charter schools*
Learning Gate, K-8
16215 Hanna Road, Lutz
Principal: Michelle Mason, (813) 948-4190
Lutz Preparatory, K-8
17951 N. U.S. 41, Lutz
Principal: Bonnie Guertin, (813) 428-7011
Sunlake Academy of Math and Science, K-8
18681 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Lutz
Principal: Dr. Judith Moore, (813) 616-5099
Academy at the Farm, K-8
9500 Alex Lange Way, Dade City
Principal: Ray Polk, (352) 588-0508
Countrywide Montessori Charter School, 1-8
5852 Ehren Cutoff, Land O’ Lakes
Principal: Michael Picone, (813) 996-0991
Imagine Charter School of Land O’ Lakes, K-9
2940 Sunlake Blvd., Land O’ Lakes
Principal: Aimee Williams, (813) 428-7444
*Within The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
Sources: Hillsborough and Pasco public schools
Published August 19, 2020