It’s good to have a home.
After nine years of rickety portable classrooms, of dust-covered windows and walking outside to get to the restrooms, Marco Island Charter Middle School teachers and students finally have a permanent home to call their own.
“It feels wonderful,” said Debbie Waldinger, a seventh-grade math teacher. “We were 30 separate units of a family before. Now we’re all together.”
Marco Island Charter Middle School opened in August 1998 with an enrollment of 200. This year, school officials expect 408 students to walk through the doors Monday, the first day of classes.
But unlike last year, there are actually doors to walk through.
When Marco Charter Middle opens Monday morning, it will be opening a new, state-of-the-art building equipped with everything a teacher, and student, may need to excel.
The new charter school has a two-story academic building and a related arts building. The $17.3 million campus will accommodate 450 students and has room for portable classrooms for future growth, said Principal George Abounader.
“Our teachers have been coming in since the middle of July to get their rooms set up,” Abounader said. “Its been quite exciting for them. It’s kind of like moving into a new house.”
Katherine Sullivan, a Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test math preparation teacher, said she was excited to get back into a real classroom.
“I feel pretty good about everything,” Sullivan said. “It’s just exciting to see it, especially after watching (the construction).”
The school broke ground on the project in June 2006. Since then, crews have been working around the clock to make sure it is ready to open on time.
“I’ve seen the entire process,” Waldinger said. “The day they lifted the walls was so great. We shook in the trailers all last year, but we didn’t care because we knew this was to come.”
Vince Magee, president of the charter school board, said the new building was made possible because of help the school received from the Collier County School Board.
“I just want to give thanks to the Collier County School Board for taking a risk and putting their trust in the local community to do the best for our kids,” Magee said. “We formed a partnership with them, and they let us do what’s right for the community.”
The Collier School Board paid for the charter school’s new building. It’s the first time, according to school officials, that a school district has paid for a charter school’s building.
Charter schools are public schools that are independently designed and operated. The schools are open to all students, free of cost, and receive per-student funding from state and local taxes.
About 75 percent of the students who attend Marco Charter Middle live on the island. The rest of the students come from surrounding communities, Abounader said.
Rachel Pascoe wandered aimlessly through the halls of her new school Friday. The 11-year-old East Naples girl was getting ready for her first day at Marco Charter Middle, and wanted to get acquainted with her surroundings.
“It’s big,” she said.
Annette Pascoe, Rachel’s mother, said she had heard about the school and wanted her daughter to attend. Being one of the first students to attend classes in a new building would just make the first day of school extra special, Pascoe said.
“I’m excited for her,” she said.
Rachel is one of only a handful of students who have seen the school before it opened. Abounader has kept the new building under tight wraps, Waldinger said.
“(He’s) held us all in suspense,” she said.
Students will be asked to meet in the gymnasium Monday morning. From there, each of the homeroom teachers will give their classes a tour of the building.
But even though students will get tours and attend all of their classes within a new facility, Abounader said Marco Charter Middle will be the same as it’s always been.
“I’ve never made a direct connection between the school and the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse doesn’t make the school, it just houses it,” Abounader said. “I think symbolically (the building) speaks volumes. We’re not a temporary school. We’re here to stay.”