After several years of struggling to find a campus, the bilingual charter school Dreamers Academy has found its new home within the 10-acre Temple Beth Sholom campus.
Now that the school has found a location, it's moving ahead with plans to open for the 2021-22 school year.
The Sarasota County School Board approved the charter school in late 2018 with the idea of opening in time for the 2019-20 school year, but throughout the following three years, school leaders couldn't finalize a location.
School leaders originally aimed for a campus near 17th Street to be near to the county’s highest population of non-English speakers. However, leaders ruled out potential locations there due to environmental issues.
They then joined a partnership with Save our Y when it changed ownership from the Sarasota Family YMCA in August 2019. Dreamers pulled together millions in donations, tax-exempt bonds and state grants to purchase a portion of the Frank G. Berlin campus.
That partnership fell through in early 2020.
Then came COVID-19.
However, the contract between Sarasota County Schools and Dreamers Academy granted the charter school a three-year window to open, which it now is able to do at Temple Beth Sholom’s campus at the intersection of Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street.
Founder Geri Chaffee said after about 10 location negotiations over several years, she is excited to finally find a campus for the school.
“I am just so looking forward to having fun with the kiddos,” Chaffee said. “I miss being in a classroom and watching their eyes light up and seeing how excited they are to learn. That joy is something you can’t beat.”
The school’s mission is to develop bilingual, biliterate and cross-cultural leaders, according to its application. Students will learn in both English and Spanish.
The school, which caters to kindergarten through fifth grade, will be the first dual-language public school in Sarasota County and the district’s 13th charter school.
“Dual-language immersion is exploding all over the country because it works,” Chaffee said. “The data coming out of these programs is that the students are performing better than monolingual students because it enhances cognition, executive function, and the kids are just engaged.”
The school, which will serve about 300 students, is 28,000 square feet surrounded by green space, gardens and playgrounds.
“The building’s design, with its high ceilings, large classrooms and exquisite outdoor areas are ideal for the type of integrated and enrichment academic practices that will develop bilingualism and excellence in all our students,” Dreamers board member Dan Kennedy said. “We couldn’t be happier with the location and the commitment of Temple Beth Sholom.”
Dreamers will be located in the temple’s educational complex, which was previously home to a former private school, which moved to accommodate student growth.
Also on Temple Beth Sholom’s property is An Apple Day Academy, which Chaffee said Dreamers is interested in working with to supply voluntary prekindergarten to future Dreamers families.
Temple Beth Sholom President Eric Faerber said the partnership with Dreamers will allow the temple to continue its legacy of community partnerships.
“Our board is extremely enthusiastic about having Dreamers Academy on our campus,” Faerber said. “Education and service have been at the core of our work for a century, and we look forward to a relationship where our organizations can continue to serve Sarasota families in innovative and impactful ways.”
The school will have 108 spots for kindergarten students and 108 first-graders. One class of 18 students each will be open for grades two through five to accommodate for siblings and children of Spanish-speaking parents.
Students in kindergarten and first grade will take dual immersion courses because they tend to respond better to them, Chaffee said. The students will have two teachers: one who will teach half the day in Spanish and another who will teach half the day in English.
“We’re not repeating content,” Chaffee said. “There’s no translation. We are teaching the language through the content students learn anyway.”
Older students will follow a standard curriculum to start, but as the first two cohorts of students age, the program will expand to include dual language classes for all students kindergarten through fifth grade.
The school is now accepting applications for the 2021 school year at DreamersAcademy.org.