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Middle school busies itself creating culture

Extracurricular activities shape the identity of the new Davidsen Middle School, which opened overcrowded.

In August, Davidsen Middle School opened with a bang, followed by an explosion _ in students, that is.

Built to relieve overcrowding at nearby middle schools, Davidsen started the year over capacity itself. It was designed for 1,229 students. About 1,300 showed up for the first day of classes, principal Becky Kaskeski said.

That number has risen to 1,327 by midyear, and the building boom in Westchase is bringing more families every day.

Finding space for extra classes, storage and even teacher planning areas has been a challenge for Davidsen administrators, but they have adjusted so far.

Several "floating" teachers conduct lessons in classrooms that are empty for a period or two. Half of the teacher planning area has been given over to storage. And the school's in-school suspension program is being held in a storage room, having moved off the stage in the cafeteria.

"But the teachers have been really great," Kaskeski said.

The crowded conditions spurred the school board to "fast track" another middle school in the area, to be located on Nine Eagles Road. It should open in the fall of 2002.

Aside from the space problems, Kaskeski said the foremost goal of this first year has been developing an identity for the school.

"I think our biggest challenge was creating a sense of ownership among the students for their school," Kaskeski said. "Especially the eighth-graders. They were so unhappy about having to move. It started out with . . . I wouldn't say anger . . . but some vandalism. Just little things showing, "We don't want to be here.' But that's really turned around a lot. They've adapted very, very well."

One thing that served as a building block for the budding Davidsen "culture" was the early success of the school's track team. "It really made a huge difference," Kaskeski said. "Because all of a sudden we realized we're something. They won their first track meet, and that helped."

So far, the school has hosted two night dances, and Kaskeski hosts a monthly incentive dance for classes that meet or surpass attendance rates. The school band, orchestra and chorus recently performed at Tampa International Airport. And this spring, the Davidsen "Wizards" will be treated to a medieval fair with dragons, castles and games.

"We're just ironing out the kinks as they come," said Kaskeski, who still works most weekends on school business. "But nothing's been really bad. I think everybody's pretty darn happy to be here."

_ LOGAN D. MABE

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