By Natalie Strom
In its first year, Marco Island Academy High School has made some pretty big strides. And it doesn’t stop here. Faculty, board members, students, parents and volunteers have been working hard all year towards bettering the school. For its second year alone, major plans are in the works which will feature some pretty exciting changes.
One of the biggest changes will be the physical location of the school. Currently located at 1450 Winterberry Drive, next to the Family Church of Marco, MIA started its first year with 70 freshman and sophomore students. Next year’s plans include adding a junior program and moving to a new location on San Marco. The permanent location will be just east of Key Marco. “We are currently working on the financing for the building. John Szerdi and Bob Case, the original architects who have been working with us the whole time, are working together to coordinate the whole project.” Initial plans entail leasing the property until it can be purchased while utilizing modular units which will allow the school to grow over time.
Eventual plans include a LEED certified building to replace the modular units. “A nationally accepted organization for design, operation and construction of high performance green buildings,” LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. All of this, however, comes at a pretty hefty price tag.
Public charter schools, such as MIA, are given nothing from the government by way of start-up money. Thus far, donations are what keep the high school afloat. “As a school, you just don’t have that much money. The money you do have you want to spend on the students, programs and teachers. That’s what’s so hard for charter schools. Regular public schools are given the money and the property to build,” according to Jane Watt, President of the Board of Directors for Marco Island Academy.
In addition, charter schools receive 5% less money for operational programs than traditional public schools. “If you look at it overall, even regular schools don’t have enough to operate. Our standards and our test scores must match what the district’s are, so we are held to the same accountability but we are given less money to reach that. So we really need to rely heavily on the community,” explains Watt.
The community has certainly answered the call. Fundraisers, such as The Ballroom Dancing Extravaganza held at the Marriott on February 24th, have been quite successful. Featuring the Naples Performing Arts Group and a silent and live auction, the event was a blast. Many of the high school students showed up, dressed to the nines, proud to be helping their high school grow.
Up next, by way of fundraising, comes the 3rd Annual 5K Walk/Run at the Esplanade on March 10th. Registration starts at 7:00 AM for the family-friendly event.
April 28th will feature the next fundraising activity, called “Go for the Green,” a golf outing held at the Rookery Golf Course, sponsored by the Marriott. Cost is $100/person or $400/foursome. Companies or individuals may sponsor a hole for $1,000, which includes golfing for four people. The 18-hole event will include a lunch and 50/50 raffle. Register for the event by calling MIA Board Vice Chairwoman, Dawn Vergo at 239-404-3622.
Other ways to help support MIA and the community’s teenagers is through legacy options. “We are looking for people who might be interested in naming rights. An opportunity for people here to leave a part of themselves for generations to come. Especially towards something like education. It sends such a positive message within the community,” adds Watt. All of the classrooms, administrative buildings, the gymnasium, the land itself, as well as benches, trees and the like will all be able to be named.
Marco Island Academy has proven worthy of donations in its first year, alone. Excellent educational opportunities coincide with some great sports programs. The MIA Rays already host baseball, cross country, girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, track and cheerleading. Next year, sports will expand to include soccer, tennis and football. Mike Vanderjagt, former NFL football kicker, will coach the new team.
Excellent education will continue by way of the new AICE program to begin in the fall. The Advanced International Certificate of Education through the University of Cambridge falls in line with programs similar to Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses. According to Amber Prange, MIA teacher and AICE Curriculum Coordinator, MIA “had to go through an extensive application process to be approved as a ‘Cambridge’ school.’ The program, which allows students to earn college credit while still in high school, will serve as a rigorous curriculum education opportunity. Students will take an accelerated course followed by an examination. Upon passing, they are given one to two college credit points. Students must pass an exam in three different sections to qualify for an AICE diploma: math and sciences, languages and arts and humanities.
“The curriculum emphasizes a sound foundation and understanding of information versus simple regurgitation,” adds Prange. As each exam is mostly written, versus multiple choice, students must articulate what they have learned. As an International program, AICE puts students at the forefront of learning and on the right track for a positive college experience.
Marco Island Academy has also partnered with the Marriott to bring even more options to its students. “One of the areas we wanted our focus to be was Resort Management. The reason for this is because we live in a resort community. Students who have grown up here may like to stay here. So our goal is for students to see different professional career opportunities available here on the island,” explains Watt.
The program will start small at first as a marketing/business elective course. The Marriott will bring in different speakers throughout the course in areas such as culinary, golf, spa, management and more. Continues Watt, “students will have the opportunity to go and tour the facility as well as learn the basics of marketing and business while at the same time, looking at different careers that will utilize those skills.”
“I think it’s great for students to get hands on experience outside of the classroom, adds Dawn Vergo. “It really puts them out into the world, giving them practical and social experiences.”
The foundation behind all of these ideas is to teach students that they can do anything they want to do – something that often gets lost after about first grade. “Nothing is limited as far as education and job opportunities are concerned,” adds Vergo.
“You can aspire to do anything and there’s so many different choices out there,” continues Watt. “We want the students to learn not to limit themselves at all.”
The only thing limiting these teens is, of course, money. No date has been set for the groundbreaking for the new school location, but the goal is for August, 2012. “Once we obtain the financing, developing the property could go very quickly. There are different levels of financing that we need. To purchase the property alone, we need $2.2 million,” Watt explains. Leasing the land is fine for now, but to be able to build, the infrastructure alone will cost between $500,000 to $600,000. This is simply for roadwork, plumbing, etc. Then the modulars would have to be leased. This, however, does not even take into consideration the operational costs of running a school.
Through hard work and dedication over a number of years, Marco Island Academy High School is flying high in its first year. The MIA Rays are continuing to set the bar even higher. To help MIA reach its goal, visit their website at www. marcoislandacademy.org or call 239- 393-5133. If interested in legacy naming, contact Jane Watt at [email protected] or 239-249-0004. For questions concerning fundraisers, contact Dawn Vergo at 239-404-3622.