Around Academy – Issue Five

A Letter from the Head of School

Mark HellerDear Academy Community:
I stood at the podium and looked out on the sea of nearly 450 children clad in blue and white. To my left was the band, playing better than they had a right to in early October. Next to them was the section of parents and guests, including half of our founding team, Mrs. Connie Wendlek. The combined 2nd – 12th grade chorus had sung their song, in which they promised “Give me wings, and I’ll soar like an eagle . . . if I stand on your shoulders, we can make a new world come true.” The crowd cheered as each of the 10-plus-year faculty and staff was introduced, saving their longest and loudest ovations for Ms. Sarah Ivie and Mr. Robert Sullivan, who each were counting the completion of 20 years on the faculty.
Last Thursday’s Founders’ Day was a great celebration.

Founders’ Day is certainly a time to note Academy at the Lakes’ progress. But it’s also a time in which I think about the school’s future. And all of those thoughts are very, very positive. The state of our school is strong, with excellent people, program, and place coming together to create a first-rate educational experience for the families who choose our uncommon environment. But that’s no reason to rest on our laurels. We have great opportunities yet before us, from developing our new land, to unleashing the creativity of all of our people, to improving the public’s awareness of our unique attributes. I look forward to sharing our story with anyone who will listen!

After the Founders’ Day Assembly, Mrs. Wendlek told me, “The school is everything we dreamed it could be.”

While I appreciate deeply our founders’ confidence, I also know well that there are even brighter days in our future, days we will bring to life by working together to nourish and enhance our school’s culture and the opportunities it can bring to young people and our community. Together, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

Thank you for providing shoulders upon which our children and our children’s children will stand. Thank you for choosing Academy at the Lakes.

Mark Heller
Head of School

Back to Top


Teacher Feature: New Faculty

AATL Teachers

Click here to read the article on our blog.


Academy Football: On the Growth Curve

Academy Football

As Academy at the Lakes prepared for its season-opening football game in August, new Head Coach Shawn Brown faced a problem he never expected.

Brown wasn’t sure if he would have enough uniforms and helmets to outfit the entire football team.

But Brown’s concern wasn’t due to an equipment malfunction. Rather, with 24 players on the roster, the Wildcats are fielding their largest team since the state championship year in 2006. This year’s team, in fact, is twice the size of last year’s squad.

With only four returning players from the 2013 team, Brown relied on his energy and enthusiasm in order to attract new players.

“As we got closer to the start of school and as the buzz spread, we went from 10 to 12 to 16 to 18 to 24,” said Brown. “You could see the kids get excited.”

Academy Football

The roster of 24 is made up of five 8th graders, six freshmen, four sophomores, seven juniors, and just two seniors.

With a slew of new, young talent, one of Brown’s biggest tasks has been to help his “rookies” quickly learn the game.

“Honestly,” said Brown, “with 20 new players I wasn’t sure what to expect. My expectation was to play hard and get after it.”

After dropping their opening game to Spring Hill Christian, 18-12, the Wildcats rebounded with a 35-0 victory over Solid Rock.

Quarterback Max Stepanets ’15, the only returning starter from the 2013 team, noticed a marked improvement between the first and second games of the season.

“We have a lot of inexperienced players who have never played before and that first game showed it,” said Max. “But with the help of the coaching staff, we got it together, and we’ve started playing like a team. In the second game we were more organized and people knew their assignments. Players got to the ball when they needed to and we were just more active.”

With so many young players on the team, Brown has tapped Max and lineman Mikey Mauger ’15 to help lead the squad.

“Max and Mikey have done a tremendous job of taking that leadership role from coach to players to the rest of the team,” said Brown.

Academy Football

Mikey believes their roles are similar to that of on-the-field coaches.

“I really like how Coach Brown communicates with us,” said Mikey. “We can bring things up to him and he asks us questions to seek our input. We work together as a little team. On the field, as quarterback, Max has to direct traffic. It’s my job to help direct the linemen and let them know exactly where they need to be.”

“Next year everyone will have a better feel for it, and it’s really encouraging to see that a lot of new kids came out. This year is still going to be a learning year that will hopefully jumpstart into the next few years. I tell the guys that we aren’t just playing for this year. We’re playing for next year and the year after.”

Max, like Mikey, hopes to leave a legacy of more than just “x’s and o’s” with his teammates.

“Football is about more than just the sport; it is not just about throwing the ball and running it,” said Max. “When I come back to visit campus after I graduate, I expect a camaraderie to have developed and to see the young guys playing and staying with it throughout their high school careers. I’m very curious to see how these young guys grow up on the field. It’s exciting to see how exponentially we’ve grown.”

Back to Top


Lower Division Technology Initiative

Words by Kim Vreeland


I remember the day our family got a Comcast cable box for the lone television that sat in our family room. Clunky and simplistic. Beautiful and cutting edge. Couple that with the Atari gaming system we had, and life was good.

And while technology took off in our homes, our schools kept us grounded with scratchy chalkboards, purple-inked ditto machines, and 8mm film projectors.

Fast-forward to the present, and technology drives our daily lives. The same is true for Academy students, both big and small. Walk into any Academy classroom and you will see students standing in front of interactive televisions matching letters and sorting colors; students preparing Excel spreadsheets for graphing their research results; and cooperative groups creating PowerPoint projects to present collaboratively.


Discovering Technology

The Lower Division technology initiative supports skills and curricular themes by integrating technology into the classroom. Technology instructor Desiree Rodriguez offers support in the classroom for both the teachers and students.

Said Rodriguez: “I have a variety of interactive games for (students) to play that reinforce what they are learning in their classrooms.”

Early childhood students often come to Academy already having experience with some form of technology outside of their school environment; therefore, the technology that is taught and integrated at school is being practiced and honed at home.

In Grades 1-4, students learn basic keyboarding and Microsoft Office programs such as PowerPoint and Excel. In Grades 3 and 4, every student has a Microsoft surface tablet to use during the day. Students use the tablets in all of their classes for accessing programs like, writing essays, and typing their spelling words. The tablets prove powerful for long-term projects that involve presenting PowerPoint projects that boast proficiency in graphing, inserting images, and wrapping text.

“Consistent exposure and practice lend to a sense of comfort when working on the surface tablets, which allows us to use our technology class more efficiently,” said Rodriguez.

Said Lower Division Director Kathy Carley: “Technology is a driving force in our students’ lives. Having the tablets in third and fourth grades prepares the students to be productive. The bridge to Middle Division is smoother and provides skills for success.”

Using Technology to Discover

“Our class is always filled with a happy vibe,” says Rodriguez. The excitement in the students’ voices and their expressions when they are shown how to change page color, page borders, texture or animations is telling. Students love to explore and discover. I get so much joy out of seeing my PreK3 and JK students using the interactive televisions.”

And the discovery doesn’t end in the classroom. Julia Pesch ’26 was excited when she returned from summer vacation to share that her parents bought a laptop for her over the summer, and she was typing on Microsoft Word like she had in class during the school year.

Curiosity is inherent in children, and Academy’s vision is its commitment to inspire, discover, and celebrate excellence in all. The school’s Lower Division technology initiative does just this by providing the tools to promote our students’ desire for knowledge, ultimately leading to a life-long appreciation for learning.

Back to Top


Portrait of a Graduate: Seva Granin ’07

Portrait of a Graduate
Singapore in front of Marina Bay Sands

Artist. International businessman. Marathon runner. Mountain climber. World traveler. At the young age of 25, Seva Granin ’07 has already lived a lifetime of adventure.

Granin’s journey with Academy at the Lakes began when his family immigrated from Russia to the United States during his 9th grade year.

Balancing Passion and Opportunity

Despite speaking minimal English when he first arrived at Academy, Granin refused to let the language barrier stop him from becoming immersed in his high school experience.

“I wanted to explore as much as possible including sports and extracurricular activities,” said Granin. “I did everything from yearbook, to the a cappella singing group, to sports, to musicals.”

Portrait of a Graduate
Top of Mt. Fuji, 3776 Meters

“I think I played every sport but football, and that was only because my parents wouldn’t let me. I was quite active and I would suggest that to current Academy students as well. Those experiences — the competition and having to balance and manage my time — definitely prepared me for college.”

Building Meaningful Relationships

Granin chose to attend Rollins College in large part because of his experience at Academy at the Lakes.

“Being at a small private school was one of the reasons I decided to pick a private college,” said Granin. “With the smaller class size I was able to build closer relationships with professors. That was very valuable to me. That started here at Academy –- getting to know my teachers. In Russia there is a huge barrier between student and teacher. Academy started breaking down the barrier for me. And that continued in college.”

At Rollins, Granin continued his busy lifestyle as a member of the varsity rowing team, competing and winning top spots in State & Southern Championships and at Dad Vail Regatta, the largest regular intercollegiate rowing event in United States. He majored in International Business, with a minor in Asian Studies and Mandarin Language, and spent a semester studying abroad in Shanghai. He was first exposed to the language while taking Chinese class at Academy at the Lakes, and as he found himself drawn to the traditional culture, Granin set his sights on returning to China after graduation.

Embracing Opportunities and Challenges


After briefly serving as an assistant manager at the St. Regis Hotel in Sanya, China, Granin landed a contract working for, Russia’s largest online retailer – a company similar to His responsibilities included interfacing and negotiating business contracts with more than 500 factories throughout China.

Granin made the most of his time abroad traveling throughout the Far East. His adventures included backpacking through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, and Malaysia; a trek up Japan’s Mt. Fuji; and competing in one of the world’s Top 10 most difficult marathons – the Great Wall Marathon of China.

1-the great wall marathon of china
The Great Wall Marathon of China

To view photographs from Granin’s world travels, visit his Instagram.

Granin is now back in the United States and plans to eventually obtain his Masters in Business Administration either in America or at a Chinese university.

But as he plots his next move, he is focusing on developing his talent as a painter – a gift he inherited from his mother, a professional artist and distinguished Pushkin State Museum Art Restorer.

Granin’s preferred media is acrylic on canvas, focusing on iconic symbols. He has already sold several paintings, and he recently donated to Academy a canvas depicting the school’s four houses.

The painting, which is currently displayed in the Admissions building on the McCormick Campus, is a fitting gift to his high school alma mater.

Granin acknowledges the “radical difference” between the young man he is today compared to the teenager he was when he first arrived at Academy at the Lakes.

“People change so much between the time they are 14 and 25 years old,” said Granin. “It’s the age group where a person changes the most. My school, the mixture of cultures, my surroundings — everything came into play.”

Back to Top


School Community Celebrates Upper Division Expansion


This year, Academy at the Lakes’ Founders’ Day included a special twist.

On October 9, the school continued its tradition of celebrating Academy’s founding year (1992) and honoring long-time employees at an annual assembly. However, following the Founders’ Day assembly, the festivities spilled out onto the newly renovated Upper Division patio for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The celebration was the culmination of Academy’s summer construction project that produced two spacious, new classrooms and a 2,000+ square foot patio with both covered and uncovered social spaces for students.

“Our growth in the Upper Division created a need for more classrooms, and as we developed the plan to meet that need, the Board kept our school culture very much in mind,” said Head of School Mark Heller. “Thus, the new patio we built creates an improved space that still serves as the center of Upper Division life, only it’s an improvement over what we had before.”

Academy’s families helped turn the Board of Trustees’ vision for the project into a reality.

“Through a combination of cash gifts and in-kind giving, our families made this project possible,” said Director of Development Beth Hult. “These families really, truly stepped up, and their giving, I believe, speaks to how much this school means to them.”

“My daughter, Mikayla ’16, was asked by Mark Heller to act as a student representative on the Upper Division school expansion project,” said Tom Owen of Albright Roofing. “She was asked to attend several planning meetings and I could see how excited and engaged she was in the project, and she was even reviewing architectural drawings. When she asked if I would be willing to help with the roofing, it was a no brainer: you could feel the excitement of everyone involved and see the tangible improvements this project would deliver.”

The Upper Division expansion was made possible by the generous support of the following families:
Jennifer and Kent Falby (Kendra ’21 and Miley ’25)
Cindy and David Gilleland (Nicole ’21)
Paula and Michael Kretzinger (Matthew ’10, Kathryn ’11, Alexis ’12, Makenzie ’13, and Nicholas ’16)
Vicki and William O’Donnell (Shannon ’11 and James ’17)
Sheryl and Tom Owen (Mikayla ’16 and Charles ’19)
Kathryn and Kevin Quayle (Kenneth ’16 and Kolby ’20)
Mara Ricci and Bret Gaboardi (Lyra ’18)
Lora and Steven Riggs (Hanley ’19 and Nataley ’20)
The lead contractor for the project was Academy’s Facilities Director Maynard Baker.

Back to Top