VALRICO — The more Kristin Seltzer commuted between Seffner and Riverview, the more she understood the growing need to better educate children with autism.
She joined the staff of Livingstone Academy in 2004 a year after Chris and Bernadette Pello founded the former Brandon Prep.
The school served kindergarten through eighth-grade students with specific learning disabilities from 2004 to 2007, operating on the campus of Bay Life Church under the name Bay Life Academy before moving to Seffner at 1204 Lenna Ave.
Seltzer directed the autism program out of a 600-square-foot room in Seffner and a small classroom in the academy's Riverview location inside South Bay Church.
What started with 20 students at the two locations has grown to four classes with 31 students as Livingstone Academy opened its third school this fall. Seltzer believes it's the only independent, nonprofit, private school specializing in educating children with autism in Hillsborough County.
Livingstone Academy Autism Center now operates inside a 7,000-square-foot facility at Celebration Church, across from Bloomingdale High School, at 1649 Bloomingdale Ave.
"We've got great parents who understand what we're doing and why we're doing it," said Seltzer, the executive director of the autism center.
The school features a staff of 16 and accoutrements such as a speech room for groups and individuals to work on needs and goals such as socialization, requesting and response, as well as the popular sensory gym. The gym features a platform swing hanging from the center of a matted room, where most children retreat once or twice daily.
"Some kids need a sensory diet, and spinning helps," said Seltzer, who holds a special-education degree and a master's degree in school guidance and is certified to teach special education in Hillsborough County.
The room includes a scooter board to build core strength and a tent in which to relax.
Because the school is operating at about half its capacity, Seltzer said the center is planning to add a class or two with open enrollment in January. She will oversee a selective admission process based on age, individual needs, whether the child has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, whether the child has an individual education plan, and other factors.
Students with individual education plans are invited to apply for the McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program to offset tuition costs.
"We have a lot of expectations for our students," Seltzer said. "We encourage them to get out of their comfort zone."
For information about Livingstone, visit baylifeacademy.org or call (813) 438-8550.
Wawa continues expansion into area
Wawa, the chain of Pennsylvania-based convenience stores, has added 10 locations in the Tampa Bay area this year and shows no signs of slowing down.
It's planning a dozen more for 2014, including three in the SouthShore and Brandon area.
The store at 3942 N U.S. 301 at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is slated to open in January.
Meanwhile, a "Wawa coming soon" sign sits at the northeast corner of Causeway Boulevard and U.S. 301. And two Valrico locations — corner of Lithia Pinecrest Road-Bloomingdale Avenue and State Road 60-St. Cloud Avenue — are under construction.
"It's just been a wonderful year in the Tampa Bay," said Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce.