Kissimmee private school adds first Methodist middle school program
By Tiffanie Reynolds
The First United Methodist School in Kissimmee will expand to include Osceola County’s first Methodist middle school, beginning the 2014-15 school year.
From research to School Board approval, the entire process took eight months, and it began with the introduction of the Rev. Richelle Wagner Sampl as the school’s new director. A middle school was the first and largest request she heard from parents. She decided to make a middle school the main focus for the parents and staff of First United Methodist.
“If we’re going to start a (middle) school, it’s not going to be, ‘Well, we’ll start sixth grade and see what happens.’ We’re going to start a middle school and we’re going to commit to it,” Sampl said.
This isn’t the first time the private school attempted to expand further than fifth grade. First United Methodist started a sixth grade class several years ago, according to Sampl, but the class had only initial success before it was dropped a few years later. This year, however, Sampl didn’t want this project to only include staff. She began by passing around a list for parents to sign with their contact information if they would commit to keep their their child in the school if it expanded into middle school grades. When signatures of parents with children in as early as pre-kindergarten came back to her, Sampl was convinced that expansion would be the way to go.
Working with Sampl, parents formed a middle school development team and began conducting research and collecting logistics for how these three additional grades would fit into the private school. They presented their completed 15-page document to the Osceola County School Board in December, and it was approved. With the team’s first official meeting in February, Sampl will meet with Florida Department of Education and Deputy Superintendent Tom Phelps to discuss details on the curriculum for their middle school program.
Sampl also wants to add smaller extracurricular and academic programs to the middle school program. The programs would include a high school equivalency program for eighth graders, a technology club and expanded intramural sports with direct connections for students to try out and play for teams of other public middle schools in the county.
The middle school expansion comes at the same time that First United Methodist also is enlarging its facility space. Currently, pre-kindergarten and lower elementary school grades occupy the main school building, while infant day care and higher elementary school grades occupy the modulars across the street. With its new plan, pre-kindergarten and the higher elementary school grades will be switched, giving the school extra classroom space for the new middle school grades. Middle school will be using space in the school’s administrative building, as well.
“We have to be creative because we don’t have a building. That’s our real long-term goal. To actually build a building. Until that happens, we have to make use with the space that we have. So, with the change of upper grades and preschool, we actually gain a classroom, which is helpful,” Sampl said.
With the combination of current students interested and the possibility of new students enrolling, Sampl is expecting 15 students or more for the first sixth grade class, expanding the program to seventh and eighth grade as it progresses. There will be an open house for the new middle school program at First United Methodist Feb. 6. Closed enrollment for students currently enrolled in the school will start on Feb. 7 and last until the 24, followed by open enrollment beginning Feb. 25.
Correction: Sampl completed and presented the 15 page research document to the First United Methodist School and Child Care Board, not the Osceola County School Board. Sampl also did not meet with Deputy Superintendent Tom Phelps. She has contacted Florida Department of Education about the curriculum, but only with the liaison for private schools and only through email. There are no plans to meet with either of these people in the future. The Osceola News Gazette apologizes for these mistakes.