Florida Southern College celebrated the much-anticipated expansion of Roberts Academy on Monday, Sept. 14, as students from Grades 6 through 8 moved into classrooms in their new, stand-alone middle school at the state’s first transitional school for children with dyslexia.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for our students and our teachers, to move into this brand-new building,” said Dr. Kim Kelley, Roberts Academy’s head of school. “I think our teachers are as excited as the students.”
The middle school is just south of the Roberts Academy’s first two academic buildings – now used exclusively for students in Grades 2 through 5 – and directly across Frank Lloyd Wright Way, at the corner of Hollingsworth Road.
In-person classes for the school’s fall semester started Aug. 24.
With the opening of this new, two-story middle school, Roberts Academy gains nine classrooms and additional office space for instructors and administrative staff. The bright, colorful facility includes a mathematics lab, a science lab, an art room, and a technology room.
“We’ll really be able to hone in on those content areas that are so critical in the middle grades,” said FSC’s Associate Provost Dr. Tracey D. Tedder, “to prepare students for their continued success in secondary education and, thus, in their lives.”
The middle-school facility also has a large lunchroom space, with an adjoining room for food preparation. An outside patio, still under construction, will allow students to enjoy the fresh air for reading or instructional fun, Dr. Tedder said.
The Roberts Academy, which was made possible in 2010 through the generous support of local philanthropists Hal and Marjorie Roberts, uses the multisensory Orton-Gillingham approach to address reading, spelling, and writing difficulties experienced by students with dyslexia. Developed by neuropsychologist Samuel T. Orton and educator/psychologist Anna Gillingham, the instructional model uses sight, hearing, touch, and movement to teach struggling readers to connect language with letters and sounds.
Students and parents arrived for the first morning’s drop-off via a newly constructed one-way drive that led from Harvard Road on the FSC campus to the school’s main entrance, with a right-turn exit onto Frank Lloyd Wright Way.
Jude, a 6th-grader from Lakeland, and his grandfather, Kevin Pichon, found themselves at the front of the car line for the first day of classes in the new middle-school building.
“It’s a good-looking building,” Pichon said. “We’re looking forward to a good day today.”
Peering into the brightly lit lobby, Jude said “It’s big, and it has very colorful floors.” He and the other arriving students would be seeing their new middle school for the first time, and a few exciting surprises awaited them. For example, the large floor tiles in the lobby – in random arrangements of blue, red, yellow, and primary-speckled white – run throughout the entire building, even brightening the stairwells and landings.
Angela Nolte and her daughter Raegan, a seventh-grader who has attended Roberts Academy for the past three years, make the daily drive to school from their home in Brandon in Hillsborough County. They have watched the construction of the middle-school building “from the ground up,” with a mix of excitement and curiosity.
“Raegan is a little nervous, because it’s new,” Nolte said. “But it’s comforting to know the teachers and the other students. It keeps them wanting to come back. We love the Roberts Academy; all you want is success for your kid, and having the opportunity to grow and be successful has been the greatest thing for her.”
The official groundbreaking for the middle-school facility took place on March 10, with construction continuing during the period of remote instruction to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology in each classroom allows teachers to provide in-person and virtual instruction simultaneously.
“Every class has at least one remote learner,” Dr. Kelley said.
The middle school’s 74 students are able to switch between virtual and face-to-face classes, if families provide advance notice. Roberts Academy has implemented all recommended CDC and Department of Health precautions, in order to maintain a safe environment while moving instruction forward. All arriving students received quick temperature checks before exiting their vehicles, and classrooms have been arranged to provide necessary physical distancing. All employees and students are required to wear masks while inside the school buildings and to observe hand-washing recommendations.