Jacob Lopez, a seventh grader at Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, has been playing chess for four years.
He knew he wanted to participate in a chess club, but being at a school in its first year, a chess club wasn’t possible.
Cheryl Cendan, the principal of Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy’s upper school, promised Lopez he would have his chess club when the charter school opened its upper school building this school year.
A week into school, Cendan followed through on her promise. Lakewood Ranch Prep has a chess club.
“Chess is a good game that helps to work the brain,” Lopez said. “It’s a very good way to meet with friends that have the same hobby as you. It’s a wonderful way to have fun at school. I’m grateful to have a chess club now.”
Now with the upper school building open, Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy has been able to add dozens of clubs to meet middle and high school students’ interests.
The charter school has kindergarten through fifth grade in its lower school building while it has sixth, seventh, ninth and 10th grades on its upper school campus. The school will add eighth grade and 11th grade next school year.
Cendan said the school had to limit its extracurricular offerings last school year due to limited spacing and it being the first year the school was open.
The completion of the upper school creates several opportunities for students and staff, and that includes the charter school providing more than 20 clubs this school year. The school could only offer four clubs last school year.
““The sky’s the limit,” Cendan said. “We’ve more than quadrupled the amount of clubs we have. The point is not just to engage them academically, but we want every child in the building to be connected to something outside of academics that they’re interested in whether that’s a club or a team. We told them if we don’t have it, let us know.”
Cendan said students have been asking when clubs would start since the school's orientation days Aug. 4 for high school and Aug. 8 for middle school. Clubs started meeting Aug. 21.
Last school year, the sixth graders and ninth graders had to share space with the elementary grade students and clubs, so there was limited space for everyone.
In the new building, clubs can meet in the various classrooms. Cendan said the upper school has a band room, black box theater, science labs, a gym and more for students to be able to use for clubs and activities.
All clubs have been created based on student input and demand. Cendan said any student who wants to start a club needs to find a staff sponsor and provide a proposal.
Cendan said having extracurriculars based on students’ interests will help them to be invested in their education and their school.
“They’re stepping up to the leadership plate,” Cendan said. “They’re the ones that are actually organizing it and recruiting other members. It’ll create a desire for them to come to school. Every day they’ll wake up happy to come to school because they have something besides academics that connects them to this place.”
While some clubs, like student government, are separated between middle and high school students, the school offers other clubs that are available for sixth grade through 12th grade.
Cendan said having middle and high school students in the same building allows for the school to be inclusive with its extracurriculars.
An important component to providing extracurriculars is the funding. Cendan said the school’s Parent Teacher Student Cooperative helps raise money for the school, and the school also has corporate sponsorships.
Rene Mahn, the Advanced Placement World History teacher and school spirit club and Model UN advisor, said students’ participation in the clubs will give them opportunities to gain new skills and experiences.
Mahn hopes her Model UN club will be able to travel globally in the future to attend conferences. The club will help students develop their public speaking skills,
Clubs like the school spirit club will bring the school community together and give students a chance to support each other, Mahn said. For example, the club plans to decorate the halls to support the athletic teams. Eventually, the club will be responsible for organizing the student section at games.
With some extracurriculars such as marching band, Cendan said it could be a few years before the school is able to launch the program because of the number of students and materials it takes to form the program.
Cendan said the school wants to be able to provide a typical middle and high school experience for students.
“We want a Fright night lights with the varsity football team out there with the marching band and cheerleaders,” she said. “We want to see our basketball team doing what they need to do, plays being put on.”
Mahn said this year is just the start, and the school will change its club offerings based on students’ interests.
“Moving on, we’re only going to explode even further into what we offer as far as clubs and the amount of students that are getting into them,” she said. “Maybe a club is going to be non-existent in five years, but it will be replaced with something else. Kids’ interests are ever-changing, and we might have to evolve with the kids as far as their likes and dislikes. But we will always have a large amount of activities.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.