Wesley Chapel families considering an independent school option for their children’s education will find everything they’re looking for at Academy at the Lakes (AATL) on Collier Pkwy., near S.R. 54 in Land O’Lakes.
Consisting of two campuses on opposite sides of Collier Pkwy., AATL has a PreK 3-Grade 12 curriculum geared towards college preparation. Head of School Mark Heller says the day-to-day school experience at AATL develops more than academic knowledge.
“We have very strong academics, but so much more,” says Heller, who has been Head of School for 10 of AATL’s 25-years of existence. “We equip students with a set of skills that will last them for the rest of their lives.”
Heller adds that emphasizing things like good manners and even just mastering the basic handshake prepares students to interact easily and effectively with the world beyond AATL. He refers to this part of the school’s routine as its “hidden curriculum.”
“Our hidden curriculum helps build confidence and confidence builds success,” Heller says.
One way that schools, independent as well as public, measure student success is how many of their graduates who apply to college are accepted. According to information provided by AATL’s marketing office, that figure is 100 percent for the years 2014-16, with $7 million in scholarships offered for that same period.
Ryan O’Malley is a Class of 2017 AATL graduating senior with a mailbox full of college acceptance letters from Florida State, Central Florida and others. He says is waiting to hear from UCLA and Notre Dame before making a decision. O’Malley gives much of the credit to AATL‘s college counseling program that emphasizes applying to schools that match a student’s interests, talents and academic achievement.
As far as his educational experience at AATL, O’Malley cites the benefit of the school’s smaller class sizes than he encountered while attending the public King High in the Hillsborough County School District.
“The teachers here really get to know you,” O’Malley says.
According to Heller, that’s the way it is supposed to work.
“Everyone has different gifts and a huge job of our school is to bring out those gifts,’’ he says. “It’s an awesome and wonderful task.”
Director of admissions & marketing Penny Rogers cites a 14-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio (for elementary through high school grades; the ratio for PreK3-Kindergarten is only 8-to-1) as a factor in creating a nurturing learning environment.
“Your child will not get lost here,” says Rogers, who lives in Wesley Chapel and has two daughters attending AATL, which has 460 students in all of its grades. “We want (each of our) students to find (his/her) passion.”
It Starts With Academics
To help each student find his or her passion, AATL offers a rigorous curriculum with a wide assortment of honors classes and is a College Board-approved Advanced Placement Capstone school, a trademarked educational program. High school students can participate in Capstone to develop their skills and talents through exploration and research of academic and real-world issues.
Students interested in technology will find plenty of options with AATL’s Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics program (STEM), which begins with the youngest students in PreK3, who, if they haven’t encountered an iPad before, will as part of their Academy education. Other science and technology educational opportunities include a substantial robotics program, explorations of Lake Myrtle in the school’s recently purchased pontoon boat, a semester-long medical seminar, experiential trips to the Amazon rain forest and opportunities to compete in science and math competitions.
Artistic exploration and expression is promoted at all grade levels. In addition to classroom instruction in studio and performing arts, there are theatrical productions and musical concerts in which to gain on-stage experience. Literature is celebrated with events like Poetry Camp, where students gather before a video-recorded campfire, snack on s’mores and read aloud poetry ranging from the classics, such as the works of Rudyard Kipling, to student compositions written in observance of Black History Month.
As an independent school, AATL’s teachers are able to focus on things other than standardized testing. Upper division English teacher Kim Vreeland, who also has taught in public schools in Pasco, Leon and Palm Beach counties, says teaching at an independent school allows her to tailor her instruction to accommodate the needs of her students.
“To be able to connect with each child is important,” says Vreeland, a Lexington Oaks resident. “To do that, I adjust how I deal with each student. We want to get the best out of every student and let them become the best version of themselves.”
That approach to education is appreciated by Sue Maxwell, whose 5th grade daughter has been a student at AATL for three years.
“We chose Academy at the Lakes because we felt that it was the best fit for our daughter,” says Maxwell. “It is a wonderful place for learning. The teachers are fair, supportive and most importantly, encouraging.”
Athletics & More!
AATL also has an active and successful athletics program. The school is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) and has 40 middle school, junior varsity and varsity teams in 14 sports, including football, cheerleading, basketball and volleyball.
The school was the 2014-15 winner of the Carey E. McDonald award as Florida’s top Class 2A high school sports program and, this year, the AATL Wildcats began competing in the Class 3A division. There is a no-cut policy for all teams and more than 70 percent of AATL’s students in grades 5 through 12 participate in at least one school sport.
Community involvement is another feature of AATL student life. The school participates in food drives and other community outreach activities with organizations like Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa.
Heller says AATL fulfills its role as an educational resource for the Wesley Chapel and New Tampa communities by keeping in mind words at the heart of the school’s mission statement.
“We celebrate the love of learning and the joy in the journey,” he says.
AATL is accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS), by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and by the Florida Kindergarten Council (FKC).
Academy at the Lakes’ middle and upper schools are located at 2331 Collier Pkwy.; grades PreK3 through 12 are located at 2220 Collier Pkwy. For more information, or, to schedule a tour, visit AcademyAtTheLakes.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone number is 909-7919.