RIVERVIEW — Pepin Academies can point to a number of successful developments since it first opened in 1999, the latest coming with the recent expansion of its Riverview campus.
Tom Pepin, longtime supporter and namesake of the learning disabilities school, joined other dignitaries last month to celebrate a larger, customized campus at 9304 Camden Field Parkway.
In 2013, the school extended the reach of its original Tampa campus with added locations in Pasco County and Riverview. But the school quickly outgrew the new temporary Riverview facilities on Lake St. Charles Boulevard.
So Pepin Academies executive director Craig Butz spearheaded the search for property in the Riverview area.
He found the spot for a permanent campus on Camden Field west of U.S. 301 near the Progress Insurance Service Center and redesigned the property to house high school students from the Lake St. Charles location as additional construction continued.
The elementary and middle school students remained at the temporary campus, but when the facility was completed at the end of 2016, the students were reunited and now this 40,000 square foot facility houses 270 students.
"It's great having everybody under one roof," Butz said. "Now we can serve more students and really have a first class facility for them."
With the opening of the new campus, Pepin Academies is now able to serve nearly 1,000 Hillsborough and Pasco County students in third to 12th grades.
When the school first opened in 1999, it aimed to serve high school students with a variety of learning disabilities.
Since then, it has grown to include 3rd through 12th grades as well as a transitional program for 18- to 22-year-old students seeking additional job and life skills training before entering the work force.
Butz speaks with pride as he describes the success of the program and how it empowers students with learning disabilities.
"Our kids do well here," Butz said. "Eighty percent of our students graduate with a standard high school diploma while others graduate with a special diploma after passing an Access Points curriculum. They go on to attend HCC, St. Leo, USF, and we feel they are well prepared for that."
Butz also praises his faculty and emphasizes that these teachers are at Pepin because they choose to be. It helps that the teachers receive support from a full team of professionals such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, mental health counselors and social workers.
The classes are small with 12 to 14 students in a class and paraprofessionals assist the teachers at the elementary level.
"It's not an easy job but our teachers love it and are committed to it," Butz said. "They do what they can to make sure the students are successful.
"The key to our success is trying to meet the needs of each individual student, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses."
This kind of individualized attention is the reason Andrea Kennedy, the school's Assessment Coordinator, thought Pepin was the perfect place for her daughter, Kayla, who suffered from a speech and language disability.
Kennedy found that the oversized classroom at the public school made it difficult for her daughter to thrive without any additional help.
She learned about Pepin through Kayla's speech teacher and enrolled her in the Riverview facility when it opened in 2013. She is now in the 10th grade and her mother is thrilled with her progress.
"She has been so successful here, happy and comfortable," Kennedy said. "I hate to think what would have happened to her if she had stayed in her other school.
"I think her self-esteem and her self-confidence would have diminished whereas now, it has flourished."
Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]