Academy Prep Serves Students Beyond Middle School, Through College

Maggie McCleland, Academy Prep Center of Tampa

Academy Prep Center of Tampa (APT) is a private, non-profit middle school serving students who qualify for need-based scholarships. Every student attends on full scholarship — $17,000 annually per student — raised from individuals, foundations, corporations, and organizations. The mission of APT is to inspire and empower students qualifying for need-based scholarships to become future community leaders through a rigorous middle school program coupled with ongoing graduate support. Students attend school up to 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, 11 months each year. Class size is 20 or less with most courses taught separately by gender. By providing equal opportunity and access to an exceptional private middle school education that the low-income, predominantly minority, families we serve would not otherwise be able to provide for their children, we are ensuring that capable students receive the personalized, small setting instruction and support that enables them to succeed academically and socially in middle school, high school, and beyond.

According to the Florida Department of Education, almost 1 in 5 African Americans and 1 in 6 low-income students did not graduate high school in Hillsborough County in the 2019-20 school year. The U.S Department of Education states that inadequate academic preparation is the key factor in lack of academic success and many students from low-income families attend ineffective elementary and secondary schools. The transition to public IB and magnet, private and boarding college preparatory schools and eventually college is exceptionally difficult for low-income students. In addition, most of our students come from homes where their parents and caretakers do not have experience with higher levels of education. Recognizing that the majority of students at Academy Prep Center of Tampa (APT) will be first generation college students and all are low-income, APT developed Graduate Support Services to ensure that our students have the support and resources they need to overcome any challenges and obstacles that may prevent them from not only enrolling in college, but graduating.

Serving as one of the core components of the Academy Prep model, Graduate Support Services (GSS) is an on-going, permanent program in which graduates receive close support and financial assistance for a minimum of eight years after graduation. The goal of GSS is to provide graduates a smooth and successful transition into high school and post-secondary education so they are in the position to support themselves and their families, and help change their communities. Beginning in 7th grade, the program helps students navigate the high school and college admissions and financial aid processes and engages students in college focused activities. The GSS program increases educational equity by giving our graduates access to and funding for services that are available to their more affluent peers: tutoring, test prep, technology, travel, networking, and mental health services. GSS also assists in covering the costs of ancillary items for graduates, including uniforms, computers, textbooks and more. Students gain social and emotional support through long term relationships with program staff. The program has proven successful with 99% of graduates graduating high school on time, 87% enrolling in college and 7% proudly serving in the military.

Beginning in 7th grade, GSS staff work with students to identify student interests, characteristic strengths and weaknesses and skill sets to help them identify careers they might be interested in. Students attend a private and boarding school showcase where they learn about the potential high schools that exist and the requirements for admission. Eighth graders and their parents participate in parent conferences with GSS staff to determine which high schools are the best fit for the student to apply and are paired with a staff member who mentors them through the application process. Eighth grade students also participate in the weekly Higher Ground class, where students receive reinforcement of academic skills in: essay writing, study skills, test-taking, time management, interview skills and more.

APT supports students through high school and with their transition into college and careers in the following ways: identifying and applying for financial aid, completing college applications, free summer ACT and SAT prep courses, resume building workshops, college tours, free financial literacy workshops, assistance identifying summer jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities, and financial assistance. Additionally, staff also serves as a resource guide for students’ social-emotional needs. GSS staff works closely our graduates to ensure that academic and behavioral standards are being maintained and any financial concerns are being addressed.

APT’s GSS has created a strong alumni network that expands graduates’ opportunities through such activities as community service opportunities and extracurricular involvement, pre-college summer camps and training opportunities, employment and internship referrals, and social gatherings and celebrations. GSS has d a corporate partnership program in conjunction with organizations and businesses in the Tampa Bay to help provide our graduates with internship opportunities during college, and jobs upon graduation.

Academy Prep Center of Tampa serves children residing in Hillsborough County, FL. All students are eligible for the free or reduced-price federal school meals program, setting their income near or below the poverty line. In the 2021-22 school year, GSS is serving 63 7th and 8th grade students preparing for high school and 359 APT alumni. 100% of our current student population are students of color.

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