WIMAUMA — More than a month into a fundraising campaign for a new building that will help it branch into middle school, Wimauma Academy has pulled in about a sixth of its target.
So far the pre-K through 5 charter school has raised $260,000 out of a goal of $1.6-million, director Mark Haggett said.
The school launched a capital campaign last month that will help it expand and offer grades 6, 7 and 8.
The expansion is important, he said, to help keep the children from falling between the cracks before they reach high school.
"After fifth grade, they go off to the big schools, and it's just a big shock to them," he said. "The idea is to keep them longer, through middle school, which is a time when they make decisions to go in a good way or a bad way."
With small classroom sizes and individual attention, the school can more effectively combat some of the challenges facing the students, Haggett said.
The school caters to children of farm workers and immigrant laborers, about a third of whom move around the country following vegetable and fruit harvests for part of the year, he said.
Sometimes, those students miss the first few months of the school year.
The remaining students often have both parents working long hours in construction and service jobs, often relying on teachers or summer school for extra help with coursework.
Officials fear that in bigger schools with less individual attention, some students might give up in junior high or become vulnerable to the pull of gangs.
"We have very limited behavior or management issues," Haggett said. "All the kids know all the teachers. They know who they're going to have next year."
The school plans to bring in former students who are now in college to act as role models.
Wimauma Academy is public and subject to the same standardized tests as other schools in the district, but is operated by the nonprofit Redlands Christian Migrant Association.
School officials hope to break ground on a 9,300-square-foot building in fall 2009 and open its doors a year later for the 2010-2011 school year, Haggett said.
The student body of 175 will be able to grow to 255 in the new building.
The current portables will be used for pre-K through second-graders, while the new building will hold classrooms for grades 3 through 8. The new building will also have a cafeteria and music and art rooms.
The school opened in 2000 with classes for kindergarten through second grade as well as grades 6, 7 and 8.
When the migrant association phased out middle school three years ago, officials promised to bring it back, Haggett said.
"It's always been in the forefront of our minds," he said.
Cost and the desire to keep the children beyond the second grade led to the restructuring in 2005. Since then, the school has offered classes from prekindergarten through the fifth grade.
The capital campaign got kick-started by some initial donations.
The Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center has offered $50,000, while Florida's Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has given $35,000.
The biggest single donation so far — $125,000 — has come from Jay Taylor of Taylor & Fulton Packing in Palmetto.
Taylor has put out a challenge to other growers and packers to match or surpass the gift, Haggett said.
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2441.