It’s late June, and the temperature outside Academy Prep Center of Tampa has topped 100 degrees. Yet, inside, the old schoolhouse hallways are packed with eager students looking to make a first impression.
A new semester has begun, and new students in the fifth and sixth grades are trying to acclimate to the day-to-day academic routine that’s anything but ordinary.
“We have an 11-month calendar, and the month of June is highly intensive,” said Head of School L’Tanya C. Evans. “This isn’t daycare.”
Academy Prep was founded 17 years ago and now has three campuses in Metro Tampa/St. Pete and Lakeland. The school provides students from underserved areas a launching pad to academic achievement. They attend from fifth to eighth grade and then go on to prestigious high schools and universities.
“Academy Prep is not only helping these kids, it’s impacting whole families and communities,” said Michael Jones, Regions’ Market Executive for Tampa. “This program lays the foundation for a better future.”
Regions plays a major role at Academy Prep. Volunteers teach Junior Achievement financial literacy classes and mentor students from their arrival until graduation. Regions also provides a scholarship fund for two of the three campuses.
“It’s not just the education they are getting. They’re really getting life skills,” Jones added. “And they’re learning how to function in society and be successful.”
Imani Smith is one of the success stories. Once homeless, she saw her time as an Academy Prep student as a life-altering experience that went far beyond books.
“My time at Academy Prep was a challenge – in the best ways possible,” said Smith, who now works as a banker for Regions and volunteers at the school. “I learned how to shake a hand firmly and to look someone in the eye when addressing them.”
She learned other skills – how to play chess, how to write better, how to become a public speaker. And she could model her future on the mentors who came to Academy Prep to work with the students.
“I was able to ask my mentor personal questions,” Smith explained. “About her career, about her life, about Academy Prep. I feel I am who I am because of the mentorship program.”
Bibiana Gomez, a member of the Regions Commercial Banking team in Tampa, began mentoring at Academy Prep seven years ago. She said she has seen the transition, from nervous fifth graders to confident eighth graders ready to take on the world, time and time again.
In return, the students “have encouraged and inspired me,” Gomez said. “Every time I went back to a class, I learned something new from them.”
Mike Matesich studied creative writing at Johns Hopkins and then worked in public relations and publishing before joining the Americorps team at Academy Prep as an English teacher.
“Hope is one of the victories here,” Matesich said. “To see things that you dream about realized because you demand more of yourself than you think possible … that’s what these students encounter every day.”
Math teacher Jenna Dufficy has seen the result of Regions-led Junior Achievement classes that go beyond the basics and affect not only the students but other generations.
“The impact that Regions has on the students is invaluable,” Dufficy said. “It gives our students the opportunity to go home to their families and talk about subjects like budgets and building credit, and prepares them to take charge of their lives.”
Evans, the head of school, is new to the Academy Prep family. A longtime educator, she was drawn to the school because of its reputation and mission. She realizes the school is unique. But she also believes it shouldn’t be.
“What is happening here should be happening everywhere,” Evans said.