School start brings changes on campus

Angela Tatro, center, and her children, Alexis, left, and Tristan, look over some of the paperwork in their kindergarten classroom on orientation day at The Villages Charter Elementary School Primary Center.

It’s back to the books for the Buffalo. First-day jitters and nerves bounce off the walls of The Villages Charter School today as about 3,320 students are expected to arrive for the first day of school. The 2019-20 school year is a new beginning and brings some additions across campus. Here are three things to know as the new school year begins:

1. Each building has one entrance during the day, which has a call box with a camera and instructions. Other additions include a key-card entry system for staff at exterior doors, fencing at every building, more cameras and uniformed armed security guards, which supplement the school resource officers. The FortifyFL app has been added to computers and Chromebooks for people to anonymously report safety concerns, and active-assailant drills will increase to once a month. “It’s all about providing a safe environment where students know that’s our No. 1 priority,” said John Spitler, one of the safety specialists at the school.

2. VHS offers various academies for juniors and seniors, including agriscience, construction management and health sciences. Two academies have been added this school year: business and banking, and fitness and coaching. The business academy will have a practicum-type of instruction, in which students will get on-the-job training with Citizens First Bank. “This opens up opportunities to actually see that part of the business world,” said Rob Grant, VHS principal. Adding to the academy selection, he said, offers students “a taste of the real world and helps them make a decision for their future.”

3. The State Board of Education voted July 17 to require Florida public schools to provide students in grades six through 12 with at least five hours of mental health instruction. This requirement must start this school year, and schools have until Dec. 1 to submit their implementation plan. Sharon Tatman, K-12 mental health coordinator at the charter school, said they are in the planning stages. “It’s going to make a difference in the students’ lives because it will help them understand mental wellness a little better,” she said. “Giving them educational tools will be powerful so they can help themselves and others.”