Little school has big goals for its students

Sixth-grader Sarah Dalrymple, 12, studies math at Holy Trinity Episcopal School. The school focuses on children from grades 6-12 with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or ADHD.

Tucked away in Fruitland Park is a small school with big ambitions, a place to teach children who may struggle in traditional school environments. Holy Trinity Episcopal School, a mission of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Fruitland Park, supports students in grades 6-12 with learning differences. “The students that are part of the Holy Trinity family are kids dealing with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, students with ADHD, or those on the autism spectrum,” said Deb Yee, Village of Dunedin resident and communications team leader for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. “They had difficulty learning in a traditional public school, or they had to deal with bullying and similar issues from their peers. This school gives them an opportunity to learn and thrive.”

Holy Trinity Episcopal School was established in 1996, and its school campus is located next to the main sanctuary. Justin McCallister has been part of the school’s staff for five years, serving as its head since last year. He said HTES finds its students by reaching out to schools across Lake, Sumter and Marion counties to see if they have children who might thrive in a different environment.

“Every year, we send out letters to guidance counselors across the tri-county area, asking if they know of any students who would benefit from HTES,” he said. “We also hear from parents and guardians who learned about us from other schools, neighbors and church members.”

Students at HTES are provided with what McCallister calls an “individualized education plan” that best reflects the curriculum found in area middle and high schools. In addition, the school strives to assist each student as an individual learner based on their skills and needs.

“A student with dyslexia may have a different way to learn compared to a child with ADHD,” according to McCallister. “Our teachers and tutors do what they can to help the students reach their maximum potential.”

Students also are taught what’s called the “Holy Trinity Way,” a series of core values that include kindness, love, acceptance and understanding.

“HTES is all about promoting a positive and supportive school culture,” said Jerry Huetz, a Village of Caroline resident and member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. “The school’s curriculum values good citizenship, sound character and scholarly learning, and is committed to helping its students achieve.”

And the work has paid off. McCallister said many HTES graduates move on to college, trade school or career training. He regularly hears from parents who have thanked the school for helping their children achieve and reach milestones.

But it also takes many hands for HTES to succeed. The school has seven teachers on staff. To provide the necessary support and guidance for its students, the school also has a dedicated group of tutors who provide reading guidance, social skills and general mentoring for the children. McCallister said the school hopes to have one tutor for each of its 37 enrolled students, and is calling on Villagers and others to sign up for these roles.

“Tutoring can be done from the safety and comfort of the home,” he said. “Tutors are asked to provide help for 1-2 hours a week. No teaching experience is necessary, and all tutors will be offered training on the tutoring process, the online Google Classroom technology, and will get the opportunity to learn about their assigned student.”

McCallister added that with all but a handful of its students currently doing school from home due to the COVID-19 crisis, the need for tutors is more important than ever. The school hopes to have everyone back on the Fruitland Park campus in January.

Tutor candidates do not have to be a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, but they must complete a screening interview, criminal background check, online safe school training and fingerprinting. For more information, call 913-558-2636 or email jimkelly8143@gmail.com.

The school is the main mission of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, and congregants are quick to support students and staff when asked. The church also holds events to raise funds for the school, including the upcoming Blackston Financial-Holy Trinity Golf Tournament, which is scheduled for Oct. 30-31 at Harbor Hills Country Club in Lady Lake.

“This is our sixth-annual golf tournament to benefit the school,” said Village of Sanibel resident Jim Kelly, school support team leader for Holy Trinity. “Due to COVID-19, this year’s tournament has been modified to comply with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines on large gatherings. The tournament will be played over two days, with one golf cart per player and individual tee times.”

Players can register by visiting htecgolf.com. The church also is looking for people to sponsor golf holes, as well as donations from nonplayers.

“If you are not playing, we hope Villagers and others will find it in their heart to send in a donation,” Kelly said. “Without such support, many of our students would not have had the opportunities to experience the productive lives that they now have.”

Senior writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or james.dinan@thevillagesmedia.com.