Academy moves VPK to day careBy Steve Estes
When school starts again in August, the Big Pine Academy will undergo another major change.
The small charter school on Big Pine Key is in the final stages of the legal process to lease Kind to Kids Early Learning Center on Big Pine Key from the current owner with plans to move the school’s programs for three- and four-year-olds into that facility.
“We are moving forward in the process, but don’t yet have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” said Academy Director Cathy Hoffman.
The academy recently expanded to serve students from age three through eighth grade.
Officials there originally thought they were going to have to eliminate the three-year-old program at the school due to space constraints.
“We could have absorbed the eighth grade students,” said Hoffman. “We have a small number of sixth and seventh graders so we plan on a combined classroom for them.”
It was the rise in Voluntary Pre-K (four-year-olds) and kindergarten students that were crunching the school for space.
“We have a large VPK and kindergarten that will be moving to kindergarten and first grade next year,” said Hoffman. “And there is a growing demand for VPK services.”
The school already has 20 children pre-registred for VPK for next school year, with a possibility of 36 kindergarten students from this year moving to first grade and 30 children moving from VPK to kindergarten.
“Moving the three-year-olds and VPK students to what will be called the Big Pine Academy Early Learning Center gave us the flexibility to retain the three-year-old program,” said Hoffman.
She says that even though the younger kids won’t physically be on the academy campus, the programs will be run by academy staff, the same staff the kids are used to from this year at this point.
There are still details to work out, however, none that should derail the move, said Hoffman.
The school is still waiting on a state inspection that will allow Kind to Kids to transfer their license to the academy. Under that license, the academy will also be able to continue taking two-year-old children in a day care setting at the center on Pond Drive on Big Pine.
“We will continue to use the early learning curriculum that we have been using using,” said Hoffman.
The new facility is licensed for 45 children. With 20 VPK kids, that leaves 25 slots open for two- and three-year-olds, according to Hoffman.
“There are a lot of positives for the school in this move,” Hoffman said. “The programs will be conducted by our staff so we and the parents know what they’ll be getting. The playground area at the new center is also much better for the younger kids than what we have at the academy.”
By separating the younger kids physically from the rest of the students, the three- and four-year-olds won’t have to share a playground with older kids.
“We’re very excited about this move,” said Hoffman.
The Academy is limited by agreement with the state to 200 students. By moving the VPK and younger children to a new facility, it leaves some room for growth in the upper grades, she said.
Children at the Early Learning Center will not be part of the school’s lunch program, said Hoffman.
“We will continue to have students at the center pack their lunch from home, the same as they do now,” she said.
She also said that the programs will remain either private pay or subsidized by Wesley House Family Services the same as they are now. Student stipends from the state and federal government won’t be used for the new programs at the center.
Hoffman said the academy staff will be taking over the new facility in time for the summer program, “Provided all the legal issues are done and a contract signed.”
What the academy doesn’t plan to do is take children younger than two years into the facility. That leaves no state-licensed day care facility on Big Pine Key for children under two.
Parents seeking day care for children under two either have to go to one of the nearby day care facilities on Cudjoe Key or seek private care.