Starting a new charter school is not an easy task.

Starting a new charter school is not an easy task. Some studies show that about one-fourth of charter schools fail in the first five years. The primary reason for those closures are financial reasons. Traditional public schools receive local, county and state tax revenues that charter schools are not allocated. Instead, charters have to rely on fundraising and grant revenue to make up the difference.

When The Academy of Seminole (TAOS) began with just thirty ninth and tenth graders in August of 2018, they too faced the reality of operating with less local, county and state funding. Members of the TAOS Board, staff and parents came together to bridge the funding gap by securing over $1.5 million in grants, corporate gifts and individual giving over its first three years. And while facing these financial difficulties, TAOS was able to make it through a challenging and tremendous growth year, and at the same time become a vibrant school community with over three hundred students, ranging from Pre-K to twelfth grade.

TAOS uniquely houses all grades on the same campus; this creates a real sense of community for students, parents, and staff. School-wide events such as field days, dances, holiday parties, field trips, and community service projects have been a fun way for older students to connect with those from younger grades. When asked, most TAOS students and staff would describe their school as a family–a safe, caring space for all who call it home.

Since the beginning, TAOS has stressed the importance of having a plan, and the academy staff have made a real commitment to helping students follow through with that plan. On the first day of school, students were asked what they wanted to do when they graduated from high school. Each student wrote down their dream job on a poster that remained in a common area for the remainder of the year. This year, seventeen students walked across the stage and earned their high school diploma. Each graduating senior gave a brief presentation where they discussed their strengths, struggles, accomplishments, and steps taken to pursue their post-high school goals. This was a special opportunity for each student to highlight that commitment and all the hard work dedicated to the pursuit of their dream.

While some students know early on what they plan to do after graduation, many need opportunities to explore. TAOS has developed a program for those students as well. Middle school and high school students participate in a weekly session called TAOS Talks, in which professionals from a broad range of careers come speak to students about their chosen careers. Presenters have included a crime scene investigator, biochemist, artist, veterinarian, cyber security analyst, senator, and more.

Additionally, students at the academy can get a head-start on the pursuit of their post-high school goals by attending programs at Seminole State College and Gordon Cooper Technology Center. As an Early-College High School, students are afforded the opportunity to attend classes full-time at Seminole State College during their junior and senior years of high school. In fact, many will earn their associates degree by the end of their senior year of high school. The academy’s first graduating class had five students who graduated with their associates degree at the end of their senior year. Three more will earn their associates degree in December. Most received some college credits while in high school and will continue their coursework at universities across the state.

While TAOS places the utmost importance on academics, students are also given opportunities to participate in clubs and electives such as Robotics, Speedfest, Student Council/Leadership, art, drama, and music. This year they will be offering additional electives such as Family and Consumer Science and Art History. Concurrent students are also encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities at Seminole State College. Several have already been invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society among two-year colleges.

The Academy of Seminole is made up of a diverse population of students and staff where all are celebrated. Each individual is cared for and given endless opportunities to contribute and help shape the school in their own unique way. This inclusivity and openness is why most see TAOS as so much more than a school: it is truly a place to call home.