New school to be named ‘Fordham Early Learning Academy’

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Posted July 7, 2022 | By Caroline Brauchler
caroline@ocalagazette.com

The new Fordham Early Learning Academy, which was the old Evergreen Elementary School, is shown on West Anthony Road in Ocala on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

The Marion County School Board decided on the name of Fordham Early Learning Academy for the new school located on the former Evergreen Elementary School campus after a majority voted for the name in a public survey from MCPS. 

While voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) programs have been in place in every Marion County school since the 2021-2022 school year, FELA is the only school primarily dedicated to the education of pre-K and kindergarten students, said Jennifer Beck, an administrator at FELA and the director of elementary curriculum, instruction and digital learning. 

“When we can sort our children and give them a strong foundation and literacy, we are working to make sure that they are proficient readers, and writers and mathematicians,” Beck said. “Then we think about the return on investment, with what we’ve done only for the students potentially coming back and then working and living back in our community.”

The academy will open in August to serve students as young as 4 years old and will be named after Edmond Fordham, a longtime educator and role model for the community. Fordham was an educator and administrator at multiple schools throughout Marion County over the course of several decades. 

“The significance of that is the contribution that he has made as an individual, as a former employee of the school system and as a former administrator in the school system,” Beck said. “We want to capture that spirit from him and take that and make sure that that is very evident in what we are doing here at Fordham Early Learning Academy.”

The mission of the academy is to offer young students a foundation in literacy, so that by the time they are in third grade they will have the skills they need to excel in later elementary, middle and high school, said Ann Hembrook, area superintendent of elementary education.

“We’re really trying to set the young learners up for success so that they can become proficient readers,” Hembrook said. 

The school will open on a smaller scale and then gradually expand to accommodate more grades and may help the capacity of schools in the northern area of Marion County, she said. In addition to expanding into first and second grades, the school also hopes to offer preschool learning for students as young as 3 years old. 

Jennifer Beck, the director of Early Learning, talks about some of the classrooms for Kindergarten and VPK students at the new Fordham Early Learning Academy, which was the old Evergreen Elementary School, on West Anthony Road in Ocala on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

“The first year we’re going to have two pre-kindergarten classrooms and two kindergarten classrooms,” Hembrook said. “The year after next those kindergarten students would become first grade, so then we would have to add first grade classrooms.”

The school will be reimbursed for education costs, similar to the existing pre-K programs in the district, with a reimbursement for the cost of 540 hours of participation per student, in accordance with Florida Statute 1002.71.

The innovative school will offer a unique education experience to the school district, and administration team and early learning specialists of MCPS anticipate that it will greatly benefit the young students readying themselves to enter school, Hembrook said. 

“This is something that we’ve been working on for quite some time and I really feel like it’s going to be a great opportunity for the students but also for Marion County as a whole,” she said. 

The application for enrollment is open and available for parents to utilize. For more information about the Fordham Early Learning Academy and enrollment, call 352-671-6842.