By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
The last vestige of the iconic Cox Lumber Co. is disappearing, soon to be replaced by a new charter school on the stretch of U.S. 41 between Ruskin and Apollo Beach.
Founded in the late ʼ40s by legendary entrepreneur, the late Linton Tibbetts, Cox Lumber Co. was a fixture in South Shore until Tibbetts sold his chain of lumber and home supply stores to Home Depot in 2006. The old Cox lumber yard and store were closed and razed. The abandoned site with cement slabs and the rusting Cox sign were only used as an informal truck stop, with large rigs parking there while the drivers took a break. Grandiose plans circulated at the time calling for a new plaza replete with trendy shops and restaurants. It never happened. The large overgrown site stood fallow until recent activity of men and machines.
In about four months, the Woodland Tilt-Up Construction Co. of Jupiter, Fla. expects to have the first phase of a new kindergarten through eighth grade private charter school completed: Two stories including classrooms, offices and a basketball facility. SLAM Apollo Beach K-8 is the official name. SLAM is an acronym for the distinctive purpose of the school: S=Sports-infused lessons that develop L=Lifelong learners who persistently pursue A=Academic and personal excellence and are M=Motivated to become world changers.
One SLAM currently exists in Tampa. It opened in August 2018 and serves grades six through 12. It has 489 students, 34 teachers and 17 administrative/support staff. Both SLAM charter schools in the Tampa Bay area are affiliated with “Academica,” one of the nation’s longest-serving and most successful charter school service and support organizations. Academica was founded in 1999 on the principle that each charter school is a unique educational environment governed by an independent board of directors who best know the right path for its school. Academica’s mission is to facilitate the governing board’s vision. Academica is a Miami-based company that developed out of the school-choice movement. The company provides services for every aspect of charter school establishment and operation and other assistance.
Charter schools are independent public schools operated by a nonprofit organization. In Florida, charter schools are accountable to the school district where they are located. But they are not managed by the school district. For SLAM, that is the Hillsborough County Public Schools.
SLAM, a nonprofit network of public charter schools, is opening a new K-8 charter school in August 2019. SLAM Academy @ Apollo Beach will be located at 5150 U.S. 41 N., Apollo Beach, FL 33572, in a new state-of-the art facility. According to Aimee Mielke, lead principal for SLAM at Apollo Beach and principal at SLAM Tampa, SLAM’s vision is to prepare students for post-secondary careers using innovative educational programs. SLAM Academy @ Apollo Beach will be the latest addition to the SLAM family of tuition-free public charter schools.
The school’s mission is to provide an engaging, challenging, and supportive learning environment that will motivate all students to be the best they can be in and out of the classroom and prepare them for future success. In 2019, the school will open to students from Kindergarten up to eighth grade based on the demand from the community. The K-8 Program will offer:
• STEM Focused Curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics integration through highly engaging, hands-on learning that promotes problem-solving and communication skills
• Character education and mindfulness programs
• Computer science, music and visual arts electives
• Extracurricular clubs, activities and athletic programs
• Career exploration and mentorship programs
• Advanced coursework and an introduction to dual enrollment
• Student goal-setting
Research based educational strategies utilized to master Florida Standards at the middle school level, students will explore careers in Sports Medicine, Broadcasting and Media Production, Marketing, Arts and Management through elective courses. Middle school students can also earn college credit through SLAM’s robust dual enrollment and advanced placement programs.
Mielke said all students will benefit from real-world learning experiences and mentorships sponsored by local and national partners in both sports- and STEM-related industries. The after-school programs will afford students opportunities to engage with peers and build positive relationships in a safe space while reinforcing charter education traits taught through the school day. SLAM defines “sports” as a pathway for students to engage in positive competition in and out of the classroom allowing them to experience dealing with success, challenges and teamwork. Their extracurricular programs build on this by providing opportunities for both academic and athletic activities for all students. The after-school programming will focus on athletic, artistic and academic activities that allow students to work as a team to address certain challenges while accomplishing self-imposed goals.
The SLAM educational model incorporates the 3 R’s:
RIGOROUS content in all subject areas using standards-based curriculum, project-based learning, real life problem solving activities, intellectual gaming platforms, and sports- infused lessons that encourage students to work collaboratively, making learning RELEVANT and opportunities to foster genuine RELATIONSHIPS among students, families and community mentors to create richer learning communities that hold all stakeholders accountable for success.
SLAM schools are open to all students, regardless of academic, socioeconomic background, race, gender or ethnicity.
There are currently 10 SLAM campuses in four states: Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Texas. The first SLAM school, SLAM Miami, opened in 2013 in Miami’s historic Little Havana neighborhood. In June 2018, SLAM charter high school in Miami graduated 100 percent of its senior class, ranking in the 95th percentile of the four-year state cohort graduate rates. Ninety six (96) percent of SLAM graduates were accepted into colleges and universities and earned over $2.5 million in scholarships and financial aid. SLAM also achieved a 99 percent College and Career Acceleration rate, making it one of the highest-ranking high schools in Florida for this component of the state’s Accountability System. SLAM Academy @Apollo Beach will be operated by SLAM Florida, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization with middle- and high-school programs across South- and Central Florida. SLAM is accredited by AdvancED under the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement division, according to Mielke.