Six years ago when her family first enrolled at Academy at the Lakes, the Wendlek Campus was, as Kara Sartain put it, “a little sore on the eyes.” However, based on the recommendations of several AATL families, Kara and Jim Sartain looked past the physical appearance of the Lower Division and enrolled their oldest daughter, Olivia ’24.
“The teachers and the experience were phenomenal,” said Kara. “Olivia thrived and the teachers and everyone were so nice. We fell in love with the school.”
Later, the Sartains enrolled their younger daughter, Sarah ’26.
“In the six years we’ve been at Academy, the physical changes to the campus have been unbelievable,” said Kara. “Now it’s a true joy to tell someone to go look at the school. The facilities are better and the transformation is incredible. Of course, you’re wrapped up in the teachers, and that really is the best part.”
When school administrators began to explore the possibility of building a new playground on the Wendlek Campus, Kara and her husband, Jim, stepped up in a big way. Their lead gift to the Play it Forward campaign was the impetus for the project and set the stage for an aggressive summer timeline completion.
“We saw the transformation of the Lower Division building, and then they built the Reinhart Family Deck,” said Kara. “But the rest of the back area of the campus still needed help. The kids are out on the playground a lot. It’s hot, it’s Florida. We thought, ‘Let’s clean the back up and wow this as much as we can.’”
At the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Sartain Family Playground, Kara and Jim recognized how the community had come together to help not only current Lower Division students, but all of the children who will Play it Forward it in years to come.
“It was wonderful to see the kids happy and everybody enjoying it,” said Kara. “It’s so great that everybody came together and had the same passion that we did. Every little bit helps – it all came together. Our kids are getting to enjoy it and future kids will get to enjoy it as well.”
For years Kirk and Aileen Downing planned and saved so they could fulfill their dream to build a basketball court in the backyard of their Lutz home for their sons, Denzyl ’20 and Dwight ’21.
But when the time finally came to make their dream a reality, the Downings had second thoughts. Their hesitance wasn’t about whether they should build the basketball court, but rather, where they should build it.
In the end, the Downings decided to make a significant donation to Academy at the Lakes so that the court could be built on the McCormick Campus. The court, located in front of the Academy gymnasium, will be 60 feet by 85 feet with a sport court topping and will include six new basketball hoops.
“It was an idea Aileen and I came up with together,” said Kirk.
Athletic Director and Varsity Boys’ Basketball Coach Tom Haslam believes the impact of the Downings’ generosity will be enormous.
“The new all-purpose court will enhance every aspect of Academy’s physical education and athletic programs,” said Haslam. “The court will be used for everything from everyday P.E. classes and fitness training to after-school practices for competitive sports teams.”
The Downings’ journey at Academy began nine years ago when they enrolled Denzyl in Junior Kindergarten. The family’s connection to the Wildcats’ basketball program started years later, when Denzyl and Dwight attended Coach Haslam’s basketball summer camp.
“It was the summer right before Tom started as the Athletic Director at Academy, and the only two kids enrolled in the camp were Denzyl and Dwight,” said Kirk. “They absolutely loved it. After that our boys would always do the after-school enrichment program and they continue to attend Coach Haslam’s basketball camp.”
As his boys got a little older, Kirk started thinking about the bigger picture.
“Two years ago I started coaching three local i9 basketball teams from ages 7 to 15,” he said. “I wanted to give Academy kids the opportunity to play in a team environment at an even younger age. Once I started coaching, one of the things that I noticed was that Academy’s outdoor court could use some improvement.”
“Another thing that solidified our decision to build the court at Academy instead of at our home was one weekend when I stopped by campus and I saw one of our students practicing by himself. It made me think that students like him will have regular access to an actual court.”
The Downings’ decision to make their donation to Academy was influenced by their strong belief that a student’s education should be about more than just academics.
“Both of my parents were high school teachers, and with my dad also being a high school coach, he instilled in me that sports along with academics really helps to build character,” said Kirk. “We really like the fact that (at Academy) the kids can be well-rounded by doing sports, fine arts, and getting a great education.”
By aligning their passions with philanthropy, the Downings will positively impact not just their own children but generations of Wildcats to come.
“We hope our boys learn from this that when you believe in something and have the opportunity to do good in the community that’s what you should do,” said Kirk.
Added Aileen: “We always wanted to have a basketball court at our home … and now we will.”
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.
Paul 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.”
It’s the first word that comes to mind when parent Christi Reinhart reflects on her family’s experience at Academy at the Lakes.
For Christi, husband Joel, and their children, Lauren ’20 and Jack ’24, community means being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Christi, who previously worked as a counselor in public schools, saw first-hand the impact a school culture can have on its students.
“The big thing for me was realizing how many kids fell through the cracks and how many kids were nameless,” said Christi. “No one said ‘hi’ to them or smiled at them. It just seemed these kids could go throughout an entire day without adults really engaging with them.”
“At Academy, there is a feeling of community. My children don’t feel like another nameless face walking the hallways. The teachers and the administration really know my kids. They know them academically but also socially. You could ask any of their teachers what my children like to do outside of school, and they would know that Lauren rides horses and Jack plays basketball. They know we have two dogs, and I bet they know their names too! They just know these things because they care and because they have the opportunity to get to know my kids. That’s really important to us.”
Last school year, Joel and Christi decided to dig deep to give Academy a tangible symbol of community. And in recognition of the family’s generosity, the new deck on the Wendlek Campus will soon be named in the Reinharts’ honor.
“We weren’t even planning to make the gift,” said Christi. “But the deck kind of jumped out as something we wanted to support. For the Lower Division, the deck symbolizes that coming together and community and that tugged at our hearts.”
After many years of seeing their children and other students huddle around the playground for meetings and assemblies, the Reinharts were thrilled when the new, covered deck was unveiled last fall.
“It’s long overdue and it’s what the kids and teachers deserve,” said Christi.
While the Reinharts also support the Leukemia Society and the Hillsborough and Pasco Animal Shelters, they have chosen to make Academy at the Lakes their philanthropic priority.
“Our gifts as parents, grandparents, and alumni make an enormous impact here. You can see it just in the last year with how the facilities have improved. We believe it what Academy at the Lakes is doing and we know that we can play a part in continuing the success of the school so it can serve the community now and in the future.”
She considers herself “a professional student.” He believes that knowledge is power. It’s no wonder, then, that education is among their top priorities when it comes to giving.
Betsy and Roger Joyce have a long family history with independent schools. They graduated from Chaffee and Kingswood, respectively, and they sent their own children to independent schools as well. Even their parents attended independent schools.
So when it came time to help find the right school for their grandchildren, the Joyces quickly narrowed in on Academy at the Lakes.
“We were looking for a school to help nurture confidence and character in our grandchildren,” said Betsy. “We were looking for common values and we love the way Academy’s teachers interact with their students. Students are expected to be polite and kind and live out the school’s core values.”
Added Roger: “Raising children has to be done as a team and the school is an integral part of that team. A mother can’t do it herself. We can’t do it ourselves. Teachers see the children more hours during the day than parents do, so I like the involvement of the teachers and (Head of School) Mark Heller.”
The Joyces have two grandchildren attending Academy, Roger ’17 and Chelsea ’19, and a granddaughter who is an Academy graduate, Ashley ’13.
Now retired, the Joyces stay involved in the community with Roger serving on the Florida Hospital-Tampa Foundation board and Betsy serving on the Academy at the Lakes board.
Through Roger’s involvement with the hospital foundation, he learned of different ways people were making substantial gifts to the hospital.
“We have watched our grandchildren grow over time at Academy, and we really believe in the leadership and vision for the school,” said Roger. “We decided we wanted to do something for Academy by donating a life insurance policy.”
The Joyces elected to purchase a $189,000 universal life policy of which Academy is the owner and beneficiary. The Joyces pay the policy premium as part of their Annual Fund contribution each year. And because the premium is paid directly to the school, it is also a tax-deductible contribution for the Joyces.
“It feels great to be able to make such a positive impact,” said Betsy. “I just try to avoid banana peels if I can.”
As recognition for pledging Academy’s first-ever planned gift, the school will name the Music Studio in honor of the Joyce family.
Given Chelsea’s love of band and Betsy’s background in musicology (she has a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.), it is a most fitting way to say “thank you” for what will be a transformational gift to Academy at the Lakes.
Having a building named in their honor was a pleasant surprise to the Joyces, who never dreamed they could leave such a legacy at Academy.
Said Betsy: “I thought, I really love this school. I would really love to help this school. I want to pay it forward. It’s doing a whole lot for my grandkids, and I want someone else’s grandkids to have this same opportunity. We want it to serve as an example for other grandparents.”