Around Academy – Issue One


Academy Tradition: Senior Speeches

At most high schools, it’s reserved solely for a Valedictorian, or perhaps a chosen few. But at Academy at the Lakes, each senior – no matter their grade point average, academic honors, or popularity – has the opportunity and the privilege of delivering a speech before the their family, friends, and teachers.

It’s a Wildcat tradition in keeping with the school’s mission to prepare each student for success at school, in the community, and in the world.

“It’s a rite of passage,” said Upper Division Head Bob Sullivan. “We’ve been doing it for a number of years and the people in the high school now know no different. It is a good opportunity to do something difficult in an environment that’s supportive.”

Despite speaking in a familiar space – the Academy Gymnasium – in front of their school community, many students still find it to be one of the most challenging experiences of their high school career.

Sullivan notes, however, that once the moment has passed, there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment and boost in self-confidence.

“Students feel better about themselves after the opportunity,” said Sullivan. And if they ever have this opportunity again, they will know what to do and it won’t be so daunting.”

Seniors deliver their speeches during Upper Division assemblies throughout the fall and winter. Speeches usually last between three and five minutes, and the topics of the seniors’ speeches are of their own choosing.

Joked Sullivan, “I let them pick the topic, but I try to steer away from anything that is too akin to a country music song.”

Marie-Christine De Romagna, Class of 2014, gave her senior speech in September. A student at Academy since 5th grade, she was sure that crafting her senior speech would be a breeze.

“I always thought that I would know what I wanted to write about because usually writing essays for me is so easy,” said Marie-Christine. “But when it came to my senior speech, it was difficult. I wanted what I was going to say to have impact. I wanted to leave the same impression that other seniors’ speeches have had on me.”

Ultimately, Marie-Christine delivered a powerful, confident message about her personal growth throughout high school.

“At Academy at the Lakes confidence just grows on you,” said Marie-Christine. “You are just going to become a more confident person by going to school here. The teachers and the students, they just bring you up. The tight-knit, family environment is so nurturing. It helps you grow up into a strong individual.”

The ability to communicate with confidence – both one-on-one and to a large group – is an important piece of Academy’s core curriculum.

“We do provide a number of opportunities for our students to practice their communication and public speaking skills,” said Sullivan. “There are chances to practice in class presenting at the interactive TVs, by serving as a Student Ambassador, by entering the elocution competition each winter, or just by learning to advocate for themselves with faculty members.

“Slowly but surely we provide enough opportunities so that students aren’t overwhelmed when the moment for their senior speech actually arrives.”

For Marie-Christine, it was a moment that brought home the reality of her senior year.

“The second I saw our first few senior speeches, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. It has been an awesome experience to see my classmates go up and give a personal message. To see another side of them that’s strong enough to get up there and do that, it’s just amazing.”

Back to Top

Building Better Futures with Music

stringsOne of the many things Lower Division Academy students look forward to is the opportunity they will have to play in the band and orchestra when they reach Middle Division. In both 5th and 6th grade, Academy students are required to play either a band or orchestral string instrument, a vision brought to life by Head of School, Mark Heller, who happens to be a bit of a musician himself.

Heller’s musical background began in childhood, growing up in a home filled with music, and has flourished throughout his adult life. During his college years at Yale, Heller was a member of the prestigious a cappella singing group, The Whiffenpoofs. After moving to Tampa, he became a member of the Tampa Bay Symphony, serving the orchestra as principal cellist and Assistant Conductor.

“I think having that kind of culture from the Head of School is very important overall, as is the support from the faculty, but that goes for everything here,” said Dr. Gary Compton, Chair of the Fine Arts department and Band Instructor.

Compton is a strong believer in the multitude of benefits that come from an education in music.

“Kids who are involved with music are good at other things because they have that discipline. Students who are involved in music typically thrive in other areas of school as well.”

Since the 5th and 6th graders may be learning an instrument for the first time, daily practice is particularly important.

“If kids are really academically gifted and a lot of things come easily, this may be one of the few things that they have to work for,” said Strings Instructor Frances Pisacane. “Having the experience of working for something and having the discipline to practice with focus is very good training and experience, not to mention time management. They are trying to juggle all the classes and other activities, so they really have to budget their time and use it wisely when they are practicing.”

Pisacane also views the requirement as an invaluable opportunity for students in those grade levels who are at the age where they are feeling different from everybody else.

“If [students] are very serious about music or even semi-serious about music and nobody else they know is, then they start being less committed to it. I see that in my private students. They will want to quit because their friends are doing other things and they feel like they are may be missing out. It becomes a common thing if they all have to do it in 5th and 6th grade. It’s kind of a shared bond. Everybody is doing the same thing. They reinforce each other and help each other out.”

Compton agrees whole-heartedly. “That is part of our culture. In large public schools, if you are focused on band, that is it. There is no time for anything else. But here, what we try to encourage is that our students be involved in different things. We believe that that well-roundedness helps build better confidence and a greater skill set for life.”

Back to Top

Faculty Profile – Mrs. Colleen McCormick, Science Department Chair

colleen Science Department Chair Colleen McCormick loves her craft so much you might say it shows right down to the tip of her toes – literally. McCormick, who also teaches 7th and 8th grade science at Academy, can frequently be spotted wearing a pair of shoes emblazoned with the periodic table. Now that’s love.

As department chair, McCormick’s responsibilities include the oversight and development of the school’s science program.

“It’s not only about what we are doing currently and moving the students successfully from one grade to another with a cohesive curriculum,” said McCormick. “It’s also about continuing to grow and improve the program.”

McCormick is in her third year at the Academy after spending three years teaching at St. John’s Greek. She received her B.S. in Health Science Education and her M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership and Gifted Education from the University of Central Florida.

One of her main focuses as department chair is to connect Academy science to the Tampa community and its resources.

Among the department’s most exciting new initiatives is a college-style seminar course called Introduction to Medicine. Dr. Lou MacManus will instruct the second semester course, which will meet once per week, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Students will learn about each of the body’s systems, as well as how to use basic medical tools.

The course will be offered to just 10 students, each of whom is chosen through an application process. Priority will be given to seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. The course’s capstone experience will be two visits to the University of South Florida: once to attend a lecture, and a second time to participate in a cadaver experience.

Connections to Dr. MacManus and her family will be further cemented by students’ coming adoption of the citrus grove on Academy’s new 47-acre property, which is the former home of Dr. McManus and her family. Citrus farming is part of the MacManus family history, and Academy students will soon have the opportunity to work the grove and learn first-hand the real-world issues facing a key industry in Florida.

McCormick also has been focused on creating a newly-formed partnership with the Moffitt Cancer Center’s Integrated Mathematical Oncology Program. Selected students will have the opportunity to visit the lab for a tour and to see how math and science really work together. Students will see experts run mathematical simulations using the cancer researchers’ hypotheses. In addition to the tour, students will experience a day-long seminar with Moffitt’s doctors.

The science department’s relationships extend beyond the Tampa area and into the Amazon. The school will continue to offer a week-long summer trip to the jungle of Peru, including yearly internships generously underwritten by Academy parents, Dr. Paul and Dolly Beaver.

Although McCormick is thoroughly enjoying her first year as Academy’s science department chair, her heart remains in the classroom with her students.

“Chemistry is almost a magic show,” said McCormick. “You can take things students use every day and mix them together and use them in different ways. By being creative with simple kitchen items, I can get my students to see, and do, and understand – it really develops their critical thinking skills.”

She adds with a laugh, “Sometimes my students will say, ‘Mrs. McCormick, you’re a wizard!’”

And it’s a persona surely enhanced by those fabulous periodic table shoes.

Back to Top

Letter from the Head of School

Dear Academy at the Lakes Community:

Every now and then I like to take a step back from the hectic pace of daily events and attempt to wrap my brain around the big picture of life at Academy at the Lakes. At the conclusion of the Founders’ Day assembly last week I took stock, let out a deep breath, and thought: “What an amazing few months we have just had!”

In May, acting with incredible vision, purpose, and speed, our Board of Trustees acquired the property just to the north of the McCormick Campus. We knocked down the fence and set to the task of making the added acreage a part of our campus with increased frontage and a new dock on Lake Myrtle, a new playing field, and a suite of offices to house our admissions, marketing, and development team.

Then, with philanthropic assistance from many members of our community, we undertook significant renovations on both the McCormick and Wendlek Campuses. The summer projects included a new technology classroom and robotics lab, extensive renovations in McCormick Hall, including the front desk, the Mary K. Haire Library, the Cynthia A. Martin Board Room, the strings and video production spaces, and a second floor classroom. On the Wendlek Campus, Mr. Maynard Baker and his crew built a new office suite, a new classroom for PK3, and the new covered deck. These renovations have touched every student in the school, and by the time classes resumed in late August, there was a recognizable spring in our step, and a new sense of power and possibility for Academy at the Lakes.

This perception was also fed by our acquisition of 47 acres of the MacManus property this summer, a transaction that creates significant long-range possibilities for our school.

It’s been a very busy few months to be sure, and we have used the momentum created in the spring and summer to propel us into an outstanding start of the 2013-14 school year.

The Academy experience provides students with countless opportunities to learn and grow, from speaking in assemblies to performing under the tutelage of our outstanding performing arts teachers, to challenging students to find the very best of themselves through athletics and academics. And we do all that with our eyes keenly focused on celebrating the joy in the journey. Academy at the Lakes transforms lives, and we are proud to be your partner in creating such an outstanding educational experience.

Last week, we launched our participation-based Annual Fund at Founders’ Day. The theme of our campaign is “Every Who Matters,” a reference to the Dr. Seuss classic that truly resonates to our special school community. We have an audacious goal of 100% participation from our families, precisely because Every Who Matters. Through this campaign, the gesture of one can very easily become the power of many, a result that will propel us ever forward and give us the strength to provide an even more exemplary educational experience for our children and families. You truly do matter here.

It is with deep appreciation of your family’s power to choose that I thank you for giving us the opportunity to work with your children. We aim to be true to your investment, your trust, and your aspirations as, together, we bring a great institution to its next levels. It’s going to be a phenomenal year!

Mark HellerSincerely,

Mark Heller
Head of School

Back to Top

Wildcats’ Volleyball: Youth is Served

volleyball Brian Gonzales, Academy at the Lakes’ Varsity Volleyball Head Coach, has a lofty goal. By 2016, he expects the Wildcats to be among Florida’s best teams.

But Gonzales’ confidence is not misplaced. He sees a growing program, full of youth, that is quickly improving and becoming more competitive.

Among the 11 players on this year’s Wildcats’ Varsity team, five are 8th graders.

“This experience is going to be valuable for them in the next couple of years,” said Gonzales. “Three of the five 8th graders played club volleyball last year, and the rest of them will be playing this year. Plus several of the Middle Division girls will also be playing club in the off-season.”

“By their junior year, we should be playing for a state championship.”

The volleyball program’s youth has roots deep within the Middle Division. In fact, there was so much interest in the sport this fall, that Academy is fielding three Middle Division teams comprised of 5th through 8th graders.

“Last year we had quite a bit of interest in volleyball, and it’s been building every year,” said Middle Division Head Coach Marla Oliver. We try to include everyone in whatever way we possibly can. I want the girls to get playing experience, raise their level of competitiveness, and still keep it fun.”

Oliver seems to have found the right balance of hard work and fun, as all 16 players on last year’s Middle Division teams are playing volleyball again this season.

With players gaining more experience at a younger age, that bodes well for the future of the Wildcats’ Varsity team.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth in the Varsity team this year,” said Gonzales, who has coached club volleyball for more than a decade. “I asked for as hard of a schedule as we could possibly get. You get better by playing better competition.”

Gonzales firmly believes that his philosophy has paid off this season.

“In a recent tournament, we played against 5A and 6A public schools, and we won three of our matches against schools with a combined enrollment of more than 6,000 students.”

“It shows me that our players are learning how to compete, and learning how to win. Winning breeds winning, and soon, everyone will want to play volleyball here.”

Gonzales acknowledged that the success experienced by Academy’s girls’ basketball program has had an impact on the student-athletes who compete for the Wildcats in other sports, including volleyball.

“There’s a place for kids who work hard, and the girls’ basketball program is a great example of that,” said Gonzales. “We’re here to teach them the way to play volleyball and hopefully be a dominant program, similar to our girls’ basketball team.”

Back to Top