New charter school Visible Men Academy wraps up first official week

eearl@bradenton.comAugust 24, 2013 

MANATEE -- The district's only charter school to open this year is also the only all-boys school in Manatee County.

Visible Men Academy finished its first week with 74 kindergarten through second-grade students enrolled. Its mission is to do more than provide facts and figures from books.

Principal Neil Phillips said that the charter school's goal of teaching character and social development has been one of the biggest draws for parents, second only to being an all-boys school.

"When someone is talking about their success in life, it will be a long time before they mention the quadratic formula and the War of 1812," Phillips said. "They will say it was because of their work ethic and a positive attitude."

Christina Roux, the mother of second-grader Kenyn Roux, said she moved her son from Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School to Visible Men Academy under the advice of her son's tutor.

"I love the atmosphere, and the teachers are very involved and want to be involved," Roux said. "It's like

a dream for a parent."

Visible Men Academy refers to all of its students as "suns." The school has a staff of five classroom teachers, along with an associate teacher who helps in classrooms as needed.

The school also has an art and world language teacher, a physical education teacher and an organizational staff that includes chief financial officer Lewis Parker, director of communication and development Cindy Cavalarro-Day, and director of community development Shannon Roher-Phillips.

With females in four out of the five teaching positions, Phillips said he never set out to have an all-male staff.

"It is important to have male and female presence here on campus, so the boys may learn to have appreciation and respect for women," Phillips said.

Staff at Visible Men Academy kicked off the school year with a "boy-day" training course last week, led by representatives of the Mary Hollis Institute from Stetson University.

"The purpose was to understand creating an environment of success for a boy's mind," Phillips said.

Phillips said that the first week of a school for boys in kindergarten through second grade has been exhausting. Visible Men Academy has extended school days, from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

"Students and teachers are both building up endurance," Phillips said.

He said to stay focused, the boys need to keep active during the school day. In addition to a physical education class daily, students take activity breaks during class.

Phillips said that during the first week, he walked into a second-grade classroom to find the boys in a top-of-a-pushup planking position.

"Boys need the activity to stay motivated," Phillips said.

On Friday, the inaugural first- and second-grade students were lively but obedient as they gathered on the floor of the assembly room, ready for the last day of the school's first week. Mary Garcia-Dodson, the assistant principal at Visible Men, captured the kids' attention, opening and closing her palms -- the "sunshine signal" to listen.

The students readily marched to class, with the exception of one young man under a table, reluctant to let go of the book he was reading.

Garcia-Dodson said that a hunger for learning is a great sign, but students must also learn social responsibilities.

"School community is critical, and it is exciting to see how quickly our 'suns' have bought into this team thing," Phillips said. "After just four days, I felt like we had been a school for so much longer."

While Phillips and Garcia-Dodson said they are happy with the first week accomplishments, they said their campus still needs work. Phillips said there is landscaping and "beautification" yet to be done.

The school is getting a new playground through the nonprofit Kaboom! on Oct. 19.

While Visible Men Academy is a public charter, the school leases property on 63rd Avenue East from the Community Church of God.

Classes at Visible Men are split between a church building and four portables, or "cottages," as Roher-Phillips calls them.

Three of the "cottages" are used for first- and second-grade classrooms, and the third will be used for an art studio and multipurpose classroom.

Phillips said that while the school is obligated to follow the state law of separation of church and state, making necessary improvements to the property, such as landscaping, is a way of giving back.

Visible Men Academy has already seen support from the community. An anonymous donor provided the school with physical education equipment, and Phillips said over the summer parents already began to volunteer for school events.

The school is planning a ribbon cutting, although a date has not been set yet. The school is expecting a visit from Linda Guilfoyle, the director of district support for charter and contracted sites, next week.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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