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East County Wednesday, Jun. 3, 2020 2 months ago

Mona Jain Middle caps 'amazing' first year

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Mona Jain Middle students, teachers and administrators celebrate a successful first year
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Angela Lindsey, the principal of Dr. Mona Jain Middle School in Lakewood Ranch, watched in awe as eighth graders drove by the school May 20 for a drive-thru celebration. 

Mona Jain and Cynthia Saunders, superintendent of the School District of Manatee County, celebrate the opening of Dr. Mona Jain Middle School. File photo.

Teachers and staff members, dressed in Mona Jain colors, lined the front of the school with signs congratulating the first class to graduate from the new middle school.

“I just stood there like a proud mama watching her kids,” Lindsey said. “I was so excited to see the entire staff come out, practice social distancing and see them celebrate and collaborate together. I was so proud to see everything, my vision I hoped for, happened.”

Although e-learning and a COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t how Lindsey planned to end the year, she was proud of what her students and staff accomplished in their first year together.

“This was an amazing first year going from the construction planning meetings to the actual building and the joy of watching students walk in the doors for the first time,” Lindsey said. 

Students saw success academically and in clubs.

In November, the school celebrated having 277 students out of 312 receive a 3.5 GPA or higher in the first quarter.

In its first year, the school's Technology Student Association club placed in 28 events at the 42nd TSA State Conference. The club placed fourth overall.

Of the seven students in the Health Occupation Students of America club, five placed in the top three at the regional competition.

Students felt welcome from the first day of school when teachers lined the halls and outside of the school cheering to get the students excited.

"When I walked into the doors, everyone was high-fiving, smiling and welcoming,” said Conner Engelsberg, an eighth grader. “It made me feel at home. Everyone made it a safe environment. It was an overall amazing year.”

Olivia Autrey and Hana Pierce, sixth graders, show off their temporary tattoos during a field day that celebrated student success. Field days were some of the most memorable moments of the year for students. File photo.

In her time at Mona Jain, eighth grader Laila Ward’s fondest memories were about the field days outside the school.

“Every time we went out there, you could see all the kids were happy,” she said. “Everybody was in their own element in a way doing different things, but you could see we were all out there and having fun.”

Bringing students together from Braden River, R. Dan Nolan and Carlos E. Haile middle schools together to make up the new Mona Jain Middle School was a challenge for Lindsey and her staff. 

It didn’t take long for administrators and staff members to realize they had to leave behind the traditions and aspects of the schools they came from and develop a vision unique to Mona Jain.

“The first week was challenging, but around the second week you could feel the energy being positive as you built on the bones and visions of the school,” Lindsey said.

The relationship between students and their teachers was key. 

“The teachers really do care about their students,” said Dawn Reilly, a science teacher. “That’s not always the case.”

Sandra Kersting, the school’s head secretary and bookkeeper, said teachers get to know their students intellectually and personally, connecting with students individually. 

No matter the challenges the school faced in construction, developing curriculum or other issues that come with a new school, Kersting said they overcame every obstacle with a smile and a laugh.

Each student, teacher, staff member and administrator are proud to be a part of the first year of a new school.

“I can go back and I can say I helped open that school,” Kersting said. “It’s amazing. Not many people can say that.”

Wende Wicks and Jillian Cucci, intensive reading teachers at Mona Jain Middle, hula hoop during the eighth grade drive-thru parade. The parade was a highlight of the school year for some teachers. File photo.

Ward said every decision made and every accomplishment was a part of the growing history of the school for future students to build upon. 

Looking forward, Lindsey wants to build on the academic success of students next year while also building on the inside of the school itself by decorating the inside walls.

"Year two can only get better," Lindsey said.

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