The seventh- and eighth-graders were so revved up, it seemed like they were competing for a big cash prize.
But, they were battling for something that has no price tag.
They were going after bragging rights during a physical challenge at Learning Gate Community School, at the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade campus at 207 W. Lutz Lake Fern Road.
The kids were clearly having a blast, as they crab walked, kangaroo hopped, buzzard circled, salamander slithered, inch walked and piggyback rode through a relay race in the school’s auditorium.
The place was rocking with cheers and laughter, as teams raced back and forth.
The relay race is just one of the challenges that students have participated in this year, said Principal Michelle Mason said.
The challenges vary. Sometimes they’re physical. Other times they’re academic or have another focus.
“We make sure everybody has a chance to be the star and use their natural gift,” Mason said.
The students are competitive, she said.
But, points can be earned in other ways, too, the principal said.
Teachers can reward students that they notice are going above and beyond — academically, socially or behaviorally.
“We try to make sure that we encourage them in all different ways,” she said.
Although the elementary school and the middle school are on two different campuses, the school makes it a point to build on the curriculum, to give students a seamless education, she said.
The school places a heavy emphasis on environmental education and has won national recognition.
It received a 2014 Best of Green Schools award from the U.S. Green Building Council for the annual EcoFest that the school organizes.
Originally held on the school’s campus in Lutz, the event became so popular that it was moved to Tampa’s Lowry Park.
The event brings together businesses, organizations and individuals from Tampa Bay dedicated to the principles of sustainability.
The elementary campus has a sizable garden, and the seventh- and eighth-grade campus will be adding one.
This is the first year that the seventh- and eighth-graders have been housed at the Lutz Lake Fern Road campus, in a building that previously housed Hand in Hand Academy.
The seventh- and eighth-graders had been attending classes in an office building on Florida Avenue, but that was always intended as a temporary location.
The charter school had been seeking to build a school for grades six through 12 off U.S. 41, but those attempts were abandoned after community opposition to the proposed site.
The Lutz Lake Fern Road location gives the students what they need, Mason said.
“We spent all summer getting this in shape for the kids to come in. We made it work for us,” she said.
“We’ve kind of been using the whole theme of recycling,” she said. “We’ve recycled and reused this older building.”
Outside, spray-painted bicycle rims and old hubcaps have been transformed into flowers, and a shack is decked out with flowers, featuring recycled items and green garden hose.
This campus has 176 students and can accommodate up to 205.
The school originally wanted up to 250 students, but agreed to compromise with community representatives for a maximum of 205.
“I think it was a good compromise,” Mason said.
Published January 27, 2016