HOLIDAY — Jenna Ely could have been out at the beach or just lazing around like a lot of kids her age. Instead, she spent a good part of her summer break volunteering at her new school. With about a month to go before the start of school, Jenna was sitting in a room surrounded by stacks of boxes and stamping the front inside cover of U.S. history textbooks so they can be distributed to students in the first weeks of school.
Jenna, 14, is among the 30 to 40 volunteers who have been showing up each weekday to help get the newly built Anclote High ready to go. Helping her with the textbooks was fellow student Vicky Tzimas, 14, and the secretary of student services, Katherine Cordoba.
"It's a lot of work," Jenna said. "But it never hurts to give a helping hand."
And no doubt it's a boon for principal Monica Ilse. While construction was getting under way at Anclote, Ilse got to meet some of her future students and foster a sense of volunteerism when she set up office at the nearby Paul R. Smith Middle School.
"It's been amazing," Ilse said. "I've been impressed with the students and all the community support."
"It's been an extreme turnout," said assistant principal Dillard Caldwell, who oversees the volunteers these days. Parents, teachers, students and community members have shown up in hordes to unload boxes, move furniture into classrooms and offices and conquer any other task that needs to be done. Even members of the Gulf High JROTC came out to assemble furniture, Ilse said.
"Those kids aren't even going to be attending (school) here," she said.
Anclote High, in Holiday near the Pasco-Pinellas county line, is LEED certified for its environmentally friendly features. It follows the same design as Wiregrass Ranch and Sunlake high schools, and has the capacity for 1,700 students.
About 1,000 students in grades 9-11 will attend this inaugural year. Anclote will draw transfers from Gulf and Mitchell high schools, as well students from Paul R. Smith and Gulf middle schools.
At one point, Ilse oversaw 2,600 students during her last stint as principal of Land O'Lakes High. But this is her first time overseeing the opening of a new school.
"It's been a great learning experience and it's been pretty exciting seeing it happen from the ground up," she said. "Overall the building itself is coming along. I can't say anything I don't like about the school."
Even so, during the last weeks of July, Ilse was still looking to fill 13 teaching positions and was expecting that books for the media center would be delivered after the start of school on Aug. 24.
That's pretty typical, and Ilse, who appears calm and collected, expects things to fall into place fairly smoothly.
"Everything is going better than expected," she said.
Members of the community will be welcome to see the school for themselves at a sneak preview on Tuesday. And freshmen will have a chance to acclimate some at their own special orientation on Aug. 13.
That's good news for student volunteers Jenna and Vicky, who have their own concerns about their upcoming freshman year.
"I'm kind of scared," Vicky said. "I'm afraid I'm going to get lost — the school is so big."
"I'm kind of nervous and excited, too," Jenna said. "But it's going to be great. The school is nice and big and we have a great principal."