Around Academy – Issue Four


A Letter from the Head of School

Mark HellerDear Academy Families,

In February, we asked our parents to give us feedback about what we do well as a school, and what we can do better.

Thank you to the more than 140 families that responded to our survey. You delivered us a great deal of information – some of which provided affirmation, and much of which provided inspiration. All of your feedback was valuable.

We are proud to share a summary of the survey results with you here.

I am particularly proud of the feedback we received about the accessibility of Academy’s administration.

We asked the question, “In general, do you feel that Academy’s administrators are accessible? “

Of the 126 people who answered this question, 100 percent said YES.

I believe one of the hallmarks of an Academy at the Lakes’ educational experience is the partnership between the school and our families. We believe in working with our parents as a team, in the best interests of each child. Of course, we cannot do this without keeping open the lines of communication.

I encourage you to read through the entire survey – there is much good news here, side by side with responses that point us to areas in need of renewed focus.

The survey told us that you are pleased with our college counseling program, and I am proud to report that this year’s performance again affirms your confidence. With acceptances from colleges and universities across the country, the Class of 2014 had very strong results. Our goal is to help each student and family find the college that provides the best fit: academically, socially, and financially. This year’s group of 36 seniors has, to date, garnered offers of more than $2.64 million. For a list of the 2014 acceptances (so far), please click here.

A number of our seniors will be student-athletes at the next level in the sports of football, basketball, and softball. Others are planning college majors and careers in bio-medical engineering, nursing, business, public service, law, and medicine (one is even choosing which accelerated medical school offer to accept). Our Wildcats are well-prepared for their varied next steps, all of which will include life-long status as alumni of the special school that has nurtured, pushed, and inspired them. We are most proud.

Thank you for choosing to be part of our Academy at the Lakes community. Have a great holiday weekend!

Mark Heller
Head of School

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Teacher Feature – Ms. Jenna Knoke


Teacher-Feature-Jenna-KnokeClick here to read Ms. Jenna Knoke’s Teacher Feature

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The New Global Language

by Penny Rogers, Director of Admissions and Marketing
ChineseClass1As a 6th grader in the early 1980s, I was allowed to select four “foreign” languages to explore – one for each quarter of the school year.

I chose Latin, German, Spanish, and Computer (yes, computer – this was the “dark” age of basic and logo programming).

We studied our foreign languages by listening, by reciting, and by memorizing lists of words in textbooks. It was a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle that, quite honestly, did not teach me much at all.

So when I recently dropped in to Mrs. Wei Wang’s 6th grade Chinese class at Academy at the Lakes, I had flashbacks to the dark ages of my own middle school years.

I expected to be staring at long lists of foreign words and characters. I was certain I would be listening to an unfamiliar torrent lectured to students from the front of the classroom.

I was wrong.

Instead of the wash, rinse, and repeat cycle of my own foreign language experience, I found Wang’s class to be exuberant and involved. This was an engaged group of students eager to demonstrate their growing proficiency in Chinese.

Students began class by practicing their public speaking skills, each standing with a partner in front of the class to have a brief conversation in Chinese.

Next, Wang used the classroom’s interactive touchscreen television to give a quick lesson on animal vocabulary. She then transitioned to a team game requiring critical thinking and practical application of the words they had just learned.

Definitely not wash, rinse, repeat.

Wang meets with students in Grades 1 through 8 once per week. Certainly, this is not enough time for students to become fluent in Chinese. But that’s not the goal – at least right now.

“Mrs. Wang’s arrival has been wonderful for Academy’s Chinese program,” said Judy Kent, Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “The goal for this year was to build the interest in the Chinese program in the lower grade levels, and I think Mrs. Wang has absolutely done that.

“She really keeps her classes moving, and she makes it fun for the students. She makes it so it’s not scary to speak. She’s a really talented teacher.”

ChineseClass2Why the focus on Chinese?

“This is where the 21st century is taking us, and we want our students to have options in addition to Spanish,” said Kent. “Chinese is becoming the new global language, and we’re offering our students the opportunity to get a strong foundation before they head off to college and the business world.”

While Chinese five days per week is already an option for Upper Division students, the plan is to expand the program in the coming years. Next year, Middle Division students who are interested in pursuing Chinese, will have increased opportunities to study the language and culture.

“I really hope our program can grow and we will have more kids taking these classes,” said Wang. “I want them to enjoy learning the language but also get into the culture and see the connection to the country.”

“The Chinese language is not hard – it’s just different. If I can encourage my students to speak and enjoy it, they’ll have fun and gain confidence too.”

To see Wang’s approach at work, you need just step foot into one of Academy’s Chinese language classes. No doubt you will be greeted by a group of enthusiastic students proclaiming, “Huānyíng!” (Welcome)!


Simply Successful: Coach Jerry English and Softball

EnglishAsk one Hall of Fame coach his recipe for success and he’ll name three ingredients:

1) Improve throughout the season
2) Be happy
3) Have fun

For Jerry English, Academy at the Lakes’ Varsity Softball Head Coach, it really is that simple.

And it’s hard to argue with English’s success. He was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1994, and with a 9-2 win over Clearwater Central Catholic on April 10, English claimed his 500th career softball coaching victory. In his 37 years coaching at Land O’ Lakes High School and Academy at the Lakes, he also has led his teams to multiple appearances in the state finals and has won numerous district and region championships.

In 2013, his Wildcats made their first-ever appearance in the state semifinals.

That was a moment Lauren Evans ’14 says she will never forget.

“Going to states and being on the field and hearing them play the National Anthem has definitely been my most memorable moment,” said Lauren.

Lauren, who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball for the University of South Florida and also plays for the British National Team, says of English: “I love him to death. He’s like family to all of us and we know he would do anything for us.”

In return, English has looked to Evans and his other upperclassmen to lead and guide a young but talented group of Wildcats’ softball players. The roster is comprised of one 6th grader, one 7th grader, three 8th graders, one sophomore, three juniors, and two seniors.

“Coach told us that there would be a lot of younger girls and that it is part of our responsibility to lead by example,” said Lauren. “I also want the younger players to know they should play every game like it’s their last. Looking back at it now, I’m a senior, and it’s gone by really fast.”Lauren

The upperclassmen have found success mentoring the younger Wildcats. Heading into the last week of the season, the Wildcats recently clinched their third straight District Championship and are among the state’s top teams in the latest 2A poll.

In addition, Academy at the Lakes’ Middle Division team, led by Head Coach Marla Oliver, is currently undefeated heading into the final weeks of the season.

“We have a nucleus of the team that is very mature and very experienced, and we have a group of kids that are just learning,” said English. “Our success is determined by the younger kids bringing their level of play up, and by some of our older players setting a standard for the others to follow. Our older kids have very good habits, and we want for the younger players to learn from them.”

There is, of course, much to be learned from English as well. But this man, who has given his life to the game of softball, insists that it’s softball that’s given so much to him.

“I love the game and I love teaching, and this really is a teaching profession,” said English. “Softball has been very good to me and it seems like it’s helped open so many doors in my life.”

And the next win is just across the threshold.


Academy Teacher Receives National Honor from PBS


Click here to read the story.


Frame by Frame: An Opportunity for Young Artists

gallery1Some artists strive their entire career to have their art displayed in a public gallery. At Academy at the Lakes, some of our youngest students have this opportunity each year.

When Mrs. Shelley Grossbard began as the Lower Division Art Teacher 10 years ago, she knew she wanted to give students the chance to have their work displayed and celebrated. She eventually connected with her friend of 25 years, Steve Rothfarb, owner of Frame by Frame Gallery. As an artist and photographer, Rothfarb truly understands each piece of art and how to best present it.

“I was in his gallery having something framed and catching up on our lives, said Grossbard.” “I told him I was working at Academy at the Lakes and he asked me if our students ever had their artwork displayed. He told me he likes to display student artwork for the community and asked if our school would be interested in having a show at his gallery.”

Grossbard jumped on this exceptional opportunity and, with help, began making the arrangements to bring some young artists’ dreams to life.

It became clear after the very first reception of the gallery showing that this would become a school tradition.

“Students exhibit great pride when they stand in the gallery in front of their framed pieces, showing their parents, siblings, and even grandparents, what they have accomplished during the year,” said Mrs. Sarah Gates, Middle and Upper Division Art Teacher and co-organizer of the event. “The art show brings the community together. Faculty and staff also attend the Artist Reception. I can not explain the joy on a child’s face when their classroom teacher compliments them on their art work.”

Students work hard throughout the year to build their portfolio, most hoping that they will be invited to display their work at the gallery.

“Students collect doodles, drafts, as well as the final pieces,” said Gates. “This collection of work offers an opportunity for students to look back and reflect on what they’ve learned. Students then sit down and talk with me about the pieces of which they are most proud.”

After this, Gates and Grossbard have the difficult task of choosing between 60-70 pieces from students in grades PreK3 through for the show. The final number of pieces selected depends on the size of the pieces and the space in the gallery.

“Judging art is a difficult process,” said Grossbard. “Uniqueness, style and overall technique play a big part in the decision. Sarah and I collaboratively choose each other’s student work. Sometimes we ask for input from other faculty members as well.”

Gates further explained that student artwork is chosen based on creative expression, technical skill, and arrangement of design elementsgallery2Elements within the composition.

“We strive to make selections that show the range of talent of our student artists. Each piece is special in its own way and that uniqueness is what makes each piece beautiful.”

There is a broad range of work that is displayed at the gallery as well, including drawings, paintings, printmaking and even sculpture.

“The purpose of the art show is to share with the community the creativity and critical thinking our students have,” said Grossbard. “We are so grateful to Mr. Rothfarb for giving our students this opportunity. The show provides increased self-esteem for the child, an opportunity to see other student work and fosters a love of the arts. Our school comes together as a community for the opening and parents, administration, faculty members and family and friends attend. For the child seeing all these people celebrating them outside of the school environment is so rewarding.”

This year’s Art Gallery showing takes play from May 19th through May 31st at Frame by Frame Gallery located at 16035 Tampa Palms Blvd. W. Tampa, FL 33647. Visit the website here.

A preview of the work shown at the gallery can be seen in the lobby at the Spring Concert that takes place in the Academy Gym on April 25 at 5:00pm.


A Teacher’s Lesson on Giving Back: Paul Hagenau

hagenauPaul Hagenau’s career as an educator spans five decades, three schools, and two states.

You could say that Hagenau has seen it all during his time attending, visiting, and working at schools.

And yet, he says, “Academy at the Lakes is different.”

“This school has more of a sense of community than the other schools I’ve taught at and known, said Hagenau. “It has more of a sense of family – a school family. In a way, it’s less institutional.”

It’s the Academy difference that has kept Hagenau here in the classrooms since 1998. Known for his challenging Advanced Placement U.S. History classes, this teacher can’t help but offer an historical analogy when describing his beloved school.

“Academy offers more opportunities to different kinds of kids,” said Hagenau. “One thing I would compare it to is straight out of my AP U.S. History Class. During the Great Depression, when the government was creating programs to create jobs for people, one of those programs was noted for the fact that it created jobs for people with different abilities and skills. It created jobs for artists, and jobs for musicians. It gave them opportunities as well. This school does a good job of that. This school does a good job of letting students bloom in their own garden.”

In 2006, Hagenau flirted with retirement before returning to once again teach at Academy.

In honor of that retirement, Academy friends and families created an endowment called the W. Paul Hagenau Endowed Scholarship Fund. The fund is intended to provide scholarship dollars to deserving students with demonstrated financial need.

Hagenau, while honored at the gesture, only recently began to consider how he might give new life to the endowment that bears his name.

Said Hagenau: “Beth Hult, Academy’s Director of Development, said to me: ‘This is your legacy.’ And when you get to my age, that really strikes a note. This will be something that will have my name on it.”

Hagenau decided to focus on building an Academy at the Lakes Alumni Association that understands the meaning of giving back.

“I want to be involved in that,” said Hagenau. “There aren’t many people who know all of the alumni. And I think that (building this endowment) could be a nice alumni project over the years. Every year, I want to have a drive among alumni to build this fund.”

Hagenau has personally reached out to dozens of AATL alumni to spread the word about the scholarship endowment and request their support. He’s even pledged to match 50 percent of each alumna/us donation, up to $1,000.

“We started on the ground floor with this year’s seniors and I asked all of the seniors for gifts, and I got 100 percent participation from the senior class. We raised $300 from the seniors and I included my offer to match 50% of what was given this year.”

He joked, “I think our seniors have cost me more money than the alumni have at the moment.”

Hagenau acknowledges that building an Alumni Association along with a culture of giving will take the time and effort of many. He hopes that his example will set a path for his former students to follow.

In addition to raising money for the scholarship endowment, Hagenau also has included Academy at the Lakes in his estate, thus becoming just the second person to recognize the school in his estate planning.

Ever the history teacher, Hagenau hopes his example will impart a lasting lesson on his pupils.

“This school has more of a sense of community than the other schools I’ve taught at and known, I hope our Academy students and alumni see how important it is to give back to the school and give back to future generations.”