Pepin Academies had just six or seven spots open for the upcoming school year.
But when the East Tampa school held an open house about six months ago, families still showed up, applications in hand.
"That was pretty shocking," said Crisha Scolaro, founder and community liaison. "We realized we have to do something."
A new Pepin Academies satellite campus in Riverview will open in August. The school has been talking about opening a location in the southern part of county for a while, Scolaro said.
The tuition-free public charter school serves students in kindergarten through age 22 that have learning disabilities or learning-related disabilities. The East Tampa campus has 520 students and a waiting list. The Riverview campus will have 150 students in grades 3 through 7.
The school wanted to open a location that could accept new students, and also be closer to home for the families in the Riverview and FishHawk area whose children currently attend the school in Tampa.
"We know the population we serve is down there. The population we serve is everywhere," Scolaro said.
The school will open at a temporary location in Riverview while pursuing plans to either build or renovate a permanent location. They expect the school to grow quickly to the same size as the Tampa campus, Scolaro said. They plan to add eighth grade in the second year, and high school after that.
All of Pepin's teachers are ESE certified. The school offers services like speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, life skills and social skills programs in-house. Eighty percent of students are on the standard high school diploma track, Scolaro said.
Winthrop Town Centre developers John and Kay Sullivan's son Sergey, 12, has attended Pepin for four years. Many parents at Pepin have similar stories to tell, Kay Sullivan said, about their children not being successful or feeling like they belonged at other schools.
"For those that have been lucky enough to find Pepin, it's just a miracle," she said.
The school has a strong philosophy that every child can learn, she said, and recognizes that different students learn best in different ways.
"We all want to belong somewhere, we want to feel like we have a purpose. I think that's what these students find," Sullivan said. "They find they are appreciated and recognized for whatever their talents are."
The Riverview campus is accepting applications for students in grades 3 through 7. But Scolaro encouraged families with children of any age to apply because some students currently attending the school will switch to the Riverview campus, creating openings in Tampa.
The new campus is at 10522 Lake St. Charles Blvd., Riverview. For admissions information, call (813) 236-1755.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.