What to Expect in the 2021 – 2022 School Year

By Dr. Mike Hill

Without a doubt this has been one of the most challenging years for teachers, students, and parents alike. The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a significant blow to the health and well-being of our community and it severally stifled student academic growth. Schools all over the world are seeing academic decline, especially for students who were already challenged prior to the pandemic. At University Preparatory Academy we are already in the process of preparing for the academic, social, and mental health recovery of our students. Here are a few of the steps we are preparing to take for the remainder of this school year, into next, and beyond.

An intense focus on academic recovery. At UPA, nothing is more important than supporting our students’ growth in a safe and nurturing environment. As we move into the coming year, we will be reallocating funding to directly target the academic needs of our students by providing additional classroom support, streamlined curricula resources, classroom technology, as well as ongoing teacher and admin training. In addition to classroom support, we will be implementing protocols to keep a very close eye on student performance and inviting parent support early and often in the process to ensure our student have enough opportunities to grow. Finally, we will be working to strengthen out school-parent connection by providing parent trainings throughout the year that are also focused on academic growth. In the coming year we will have “all hands on deck” toward promoting our students’ achievement.

Revamping student life and campus culture. To make sure UPA retains a focus on educating the “whole child”, we have taken the opportunity over the past several weeks to speak with a number of our middle school students to gather their perspectives on how life at UPA can be better for them. After listening to their feedback and considering strategic option, we are proud to announce that we will be expanding our student club and society options. Clubs and honor societies are critical in helping students connect and collaborate over ideas and activities that are tailored to their needs and interests. Although final decisions will depend on, students have expressed interest in: Art Club, Gaming Club, Dance, Peer Mediation, Tech Club, debate and more. Due to the high demand for clubs, we will be adjusting our school schedule once per week to allow students to attend clubs during the school day. This will help drive participation and increase staff sponsorship.

Laying the foundation for an athletic program. As our middle school grows, UPA recognizes the changing needs of our older students. Although academics will always remain our top priority, we will continue to lay the foundation for a future athletic program. We are currently in talks with community partners to provide opportunities such as lacrosse, cheerleading, wrestling, and track and field. The success of starting these programs will largely depend on student enrollment and participation. More information will be provided later in the Spring as we ascertain student interest and parental support.

Inaugural School-wide STEM Fair. As a part of our plans to implement a school-wide STEM program, UPA plans to host its first ever STEM Fair. A STEM Fair goes beyond a traditional science fair by including a comprehensive program, in-depth student demonstrations and judging of student solutions to real-world problems in the four major areas of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Additionally, the STEM projects and demonstration will be a culminating student assessment. During the 1st Quarter of the 21-22 School Year, students will identify the STEM area they plan to compete in and will use the remainder of the year to work on fine-tuning their solutions and preparing to present them to a panel of judges. The expectations will be high, work will be rigorous, and competition will be stiff, but the rewards of pushing through the challenges will produce rich learning experiences for our students.

Hitting the refresh button. During the pandemic, many organizations were forced to step away from everyday routines and practices in order to maintain social distancing and other guidelines. Consequently, many valuable processes to our everyday lives were inadvertently lost in the changes. In the coming year we will be revamping our school policies and procedures, reinforcing school cultural components such as school uniforms, attendance, and work ethics; and weeding out practices we determined to be ineffective during the pandemic. We have recently purchased new computers, interactive displays, and other classroom technology that will drastically improve our ability to be flexible with our instruction and give our classrooms a 21st century look.

A new normal. Pandemic-fatigue has certainly set in for many in our school community. As much as will be reasonably possible, we look forward to welcoming back some normal school routines. As our nation moves toward a new sense of normalcy, we are excited at the possibility of having our students actively participating and learning in class again. At UPA we miss our school events, field trips, class parties, parent meetings and everything that makes the UPA experience unique. We love our community, and whether we are interacting with students or whole families, we miss you terribly and can’t wait to fully engage with our community again.

At UPA we are looking forward with delightful anticipation as we take the next steps to making our school, students, and community the best they can be. While the COVID crisis may have hindered us, it has not diminished our drive to be a premiere school for families in the Palm Beach community.

       Dr. Mike Hill is the Principal of University Preparatory in West Palm Beach, FL. He has a passion for serving others through education. He has more than 16 years of experience in various instructional and leadership roles in both public and private sectors of education.