By Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
The halls of the Freedom Crossing Academy may echo with the loneliness of summer, but if the walls could talk, one in particular would share the culture of this new school. Near Principal Allen Anderson’s office, an inaugural banner sprawls across an entire wall, proclaiming the school’s vision: “Established in 2018 to Break Barriers.” In addition, the banner features soul-stirring snippets written by faculty and staff, encouraging students to work hard, go after dreams, and soar like their falcon mascot.
Although all these messages are inspiring, first grade teacher Ashley McCollum’s note stresses the importance of having a vision “… because one day at least one child will be able to look back and be able to smile at something positive that happened to them in school no matter what is going on in their lives.”
Anderson agrees: “We treat every child like our very own child. We won’t give up on them even if they give up on themselves.”
To accomplish this vision, faculty and staff focus daily on building a family atmosphere. While old-fashioned smiles, verbal praise, and hugs are still high on the list, a hi-tech behavior system called LiveSchool unites students into multigrade houses with names like Otutu, Ton Throng, and Kalpana. Third graders from Jill Loughran’s class eagerly explain how they earn points throughout the day for positive actions such as showing safety, respect, and responsibility. What’s more, they can watch these points accrue in real-time on monitors around the campus and celebrate victories.
“It’s so much fun working together with my house to earn LiveSchool points,” says middle school student Makenzie Bantum, who is a member of the Meraki house. “I was a little nervous to start sixth grade at a new school, but is has been an awesome year where we quickly felt like one family.”
Bantum is a member of the band, track team, and undefeated girls’ basketball team.
From cheering for the undefeated volleyball teams to reaching new goals in the Principal’s Math Club, the culture strives to have fun tackling challenges, according to Anderson. “One positive thing I hear is that students want to come to learn and the staff wants to come to work.”
In fact, a group of teachers, faculty members, and administrators took fun to a new level when they transformed into Funky Falcons and flash mobbed students at a home basketball game. Wearing wacky wigs, Assistant Principal Melissa Lime, first grade teacher Julie Haden, and their fancy flock of dancers quickly became a hit with students. They even performed during FCA Spirit Night at the Jacksonville Icemen hockey game. As one member put it, “We’re dancing through barriers!”
Others might argue that “flying through barriers” might be a better motto considering the school’s mission: Falcons take FLIGHT.
As Anderson, a 20-year veteran of St. Johns County Schools explains, FLIGHT school starts with Focus on a vision and a mission.
Then, there is Leadership. “Everybody is a leader. We are all responsible for each other, the building, and representing the school and families,” says Anderson.
Imagination is another key component. “We want students to try things. You learn from trying,” Anderson says. “You fail your way to success.”
As for Grit, it’s part of FCA’s everyday language. Whether it be video games, athletics, or math problems, the idea is to try and try again. “Every year is a do better … not a do over,” says Anderson, the 2017 – 2018 St. Johns County Principal of the Year.
Heart is another priority. “It’s important to care for your neighbor and have a heart for students in other grade levels, too,” the father of two explains. Ever since his first principal position in 2010, Anderson has incorporated “Capturing a Kid’s Heart.” This program is based on the idea that “if you have a child’s heart, you have a child’s mind.”
Finally, Team is synonymous with the FCA family. “A lot of teamwork went into making this first year successful,” says Anderson, who puts a priority on professional learning communities (PLCs). He emphasizes the importance for educators to meet regularly and share expertise so that the students “get whatever they need to succeed.”
Following this team theme, teacher Ginger Kastor spearheaded a project for all kindergarten classes to create a time capsule, complete with a copy of The CreekLine newspaper.
Clearly, the goals introduced on that banner on the wall have come to life. One message, written by Staci Boyer (the principal’s secretary/bookkeeper/office manager and St. Johns County’s 2018 – 2019 School-Related Employee of the Year) sums it up nicely: “Together we can make a difference in each falcon (student or staff) who flies through our doors … and when they leave us, they feel they can accomplish their dreams.”
Photo courtesy Julie Haden
The Funky Falcons