FAQ: Mastering the School System  - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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FAQ: Mastering the School System 

FAQ: Mastering the School System 

A guide to choosing a school and enrolling after relocating to Greater Tampa Bay 

Whether kids are taking their first tiny steps into preschool or kindergarten, a family just moved to Greater Tampa Bay (GTB) and needs to enroll their children in school, or a local family is looking into new educational options and opportunities, there are many questions that may arise when navigating the education system. In GTB, there are numerous paths a student can take to meet every individual’s needs and aspirations. 

GTB is home to many esteemed and highly ranked public schools. Remote learning, which has become a mainstream teaching method since COVID-19, is now more popular than ever, with many parents preferring to educate from home. Charter schools serve students who excel in particular academics and have specific educational objectives, and private schools offer particular niche environments that parents are often looking for.  

Moving to a new place and trying to figure out all the steps a family needs to take can be challenging. To make things a bit easier, here are some answers to frequently asked questions to guide residents through the enrollment process. 

Where and how do I enroll my preschool-age children in school?  

Florida offers a Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program to all children who reside in the Sunshine State. The free program encourages parents to enroll preschool-age children so they can practice pre-reading, pre-math, language and social skills to augment their future kindergarten education. To register children ages 4 and 5, visit vpkhelp.org.  

What do I need to know about enrolling my child with no preschool training into kindergarten?  

Florida does not require children under 6 years old to attend kindergarten or preschool. By law, all children ages 6 and up must attend school the entire academic year. However, students who are 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the school year can be enrolled.  

To enroll a child into school in GTB, certain documents are required, including a birth certificate or passport, a Florida record of immunization, evidence of a medical exam completed 12 months before school admission and proof residency for the school district provided by the parent or guardian.  

What schools offer a multi-sensory based curriculum? 

Tampa Pinnacle Academy offers a multi-sensory, learning-based curriculum. The Academy provides a highly specialized, alternative education for students who have been diagnosed with a variety of developmental conditions, including attention deficit hyperactive disorder, language impairment, auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder and other learning differences. 

A customized education is incorporated into the daily curriculum, with a focus on sensory integration, executive functioning, social development and social communication. 

Invictus Academy Tampa Bay in Palm Harbor provides a Common Core curriculum, plus multiple effective and diverse pedagogy standards, social and emotional learning, inclusive lessons and purposeful motor task within the classroom throughout the day. The academy also provides a variety of forms of cognitive input happening simultaneously, such as classical music, autonomous sensory meridian response videos and podcasts.  

GTB has several schools that specialize in multi-sensory learning. For parents simply seeking multi-sensory learning instruction as a preference, many public school classrooms use multi-sensory learning methods in classrooms on a regular basis.  

What do STEM and STEAM stand for, and what is the difference between them? 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM is the same as STEM, but with the addition of the “A” for arts. Both STEM and STEAM are types of curricula that can be incorporated into elementary, middle and high schools. While most are familiar with the STEM acronym encompassing these scholarly subjects, STEAM has recently begun to broaden the curriculum. 

The arts in this instance includes soft sciences, such as the humanities, design, language and other creative outlets. Proponents of the STEAM curriculum believe that incorporating these disciplines helps students tackle problems and accomplish tasks with a more well-rounded approach. 

The traditional STEM approach is prevalent throughout many schools in GTB. However, as Larry Plank, Ed. S., executive director for K-12 Science Education for Hillsborough County Public Schools and the advisory lead for the Tampa Bay STEM Network has learned, there is still very much a place for the arts. 

“As a district, we have been very successful in partnering with agencies and organizations with a STEM focus, but we are very much invested in the arts in our schools,” Plank said. 

There are over 100 STEAM and STEM schools in the Greater Tampa Bay area.  

What STEM or STEAM options are available? 

Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough County schools both put a great deal of emphasis on STEM-based education.  

There are several private schools in the area that teach a STEM-based curriculum as well. For a STEM or STEAM focused PK-12 education, Berkley Preparatory Academy and Academy at the Lakes are highly rated schools that provide students a STEM based education from pre-school enrollment until graduation.  

Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg is the number one STEM school in Pinellas County, and number two in all Greater Tampa Bay. The independent college prep school has an Experiential School, for ages three and up, all the way through high school, grade 12.  

For online or home schoolers, Dolphin STEM Academy is available to students across the globe. Students can participate in STEM extracurriculars like clubs, STEM camp and math tournaments. Due to their accreditation with Cognia, their program is accepted by universities and colleges, and other public and private K-12 institutions.  

How do I know that my child will receive a good education in Greater Tampa Bay?  

GTB school districts are some of the top in the region. According to Niche, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties rate high in academics, diversity, clubs and activities and college prep.    

What is the school transportation system like? 

Based on the Florida Board of Education, any student living less than two miles from an assigned school is not eligible for transportation. However, if a student lives within two miles of the school with hazardous conditions, including crossing a major freeway, transportation is provided. School transportation for extracurricular activities varies depending on the district and school.  

Can my child attend a school outside of my address zone or district where I live?  

The Florida Board of Education allows controlled open enrollment through the state. The program permits students to attend a school outside of their address zone or district. Of course, controlled open enrollment is based on the school’s capacity, changing each academic year. If approved, the parent or guardian of the student must provide transportation to and from the respective school.   

See Also

What is the selection of charter schools like?  

The selection of charter schools in GTB is lengthy, offering parents a plethora of choices. While some charter schools educate all grade levels, others only serve specific grades.  

Some of the most notable charter schools, according to Niche, respectively include Plato Academy in Pinellas County, Lutz Preparatory School in Hillsborough County and Dayspring Academy in Pasco County. 

What are the options for an individualized, attentive education for my child with special needs?  

GTB has many schools that provide customized learning options for students with special education needs. Some of these include the Broach School, a highly ranked private school serving students in grades two through 12 with autism and other needs. The Broach School has campuses in Lakeland, Zephyrhills, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Bradenton.  

The Florida Autism Center of Excellence Tampa offers programs for students with learning disabilities and autism from kindergarten through 12th grade. Focus Academy in Temple Terrace educates special needs students between the ages of 14 and 22. Tampa Day School serves students in grades three through eight and specializes in educating students with mild academic struggles, dyslexia, anxiety and ADHD.  

There are several institutions dedicated to the deaf, blind or visually impaired, including the Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf and the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind & Low Vision, a nonprofit organization which helps prepare students for post-secondary steps such as going to college or technical school or entering the workforce. 

What advanced curricula are available for my child who is considered gifted and talented?  

GTB is home to an impressive proportion of schools that offer programs or specialized curriculum for gifted and talented students compared to the rest of the state. There are over 500 schools in GTB with Gifted and Talented Education Programs.  

International Baccalaureate programs are available at more than 15 public and private schools in GTB. There are also roughly 45 magnet elementary, middle and high schools in the area. They are listed on our website, guidetogreatertampabay.com 

Advanced Placement courses provide the opportunity to earn college credits at the high school campus. In addition, advanced students can dual-enroll at state colleges before graduating high school with no tuition costs. 

Can I homeschool my child here?   

Homeschooling and remote learning are allowed under the Florida Board of Education throughout the Sunshine State. Therefore, upon relocating, it is essential to research the homeschooling and remote learning programs offered in any GTB school districts located in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. 

By Meredith Biesinger.

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