When the doors open on the first day of school, students, faculty and staff at the King's Kids Academy of Health Sciences will walk the halls in hospital scrubs.
Their attire, in school colors of red, white and blue, is no gimmick. It is the standard uniform for a new charter school with a mission to get young students off to a healthy start in life and maybe headed on a career path to becoming medical professionals or scientists.
One of the school's partners will be the University of South Florida's College of Medicine. USF staff members will be mentors and tutors, and also organize health-related workshops.
"We want to embed the idea early on that they can pursue careers in the medical field as well as learn to care for themselves and re-energize the community in a healthful manner," said Maria Stroud, the school's director.
About 125 students are expected to enroll for kindergarten through third-grade classes. In the next two years, the plan is to add fourth- and fifth-grade classes. All students are welcome but enrollment is expected to come largely from East Tampa's neighborhoods.
"We want to be a community school," Stroud said.
The Tampa Bay Community and Family Development Corporation — also known as Bethesda Ministries Community Development Corporation — will operate the charter school. The nonprofit has a lease for the Family Life Center building on the campus of the Re-Birth Baptist Church at 1924 E. Comanche Ave. in Seminole Heights.
For more than 25 years Bethesda Ministries operated King's Kids Christian Academy, a private school for kindergarten through second grade on the campus of the 34th Street Church of God. The decision to pursue a charter school came following the downturn in the economy and increased requests for enrollment in King's Kids.
"We have those parents who were knocking on our door but could not afford to do it," said Maxine Woodside, Bethesda Ministries' executive director.
King's Kids Christian Academy will convert to a private pre-kindergarten school, Woodside said.
Charter schools are independent, nonprofit public schools that receive money from state and local governments. They must meet standards set by local school districts regarding enrollment levels, graduation rates and students' standardized test scores.
To be ready for opening day Aug. 21, the building at Re-Birth Baptist will be pressure-washed and painted, and classrooms spruced up. A large fenced-in playground also will get a makeover. Volunteers will help with beautification efforts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and July 18.
Stroud anticipates a staff of more than 15 people including seven teachers.
Among her students will be her 8-year-old daughter, Ya'Nia. "She's raring to go," her mom said. "She's excited."
In addition to USF, the school has partnerships with area civic groups, other nonprofit organizations and government agencies including the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership and Reach Up.
A full day of school will run from 7:25 a.m., when students have a 30-minute breakfast, to 6 p.m. It means the students will spend more time in the classroom each week than their counterparts at traditional public schools, said Stroud.
"There will be physical education every day," she said. "A lot of schools have gone to twice a week because of so many [budget] cuts."
Students will plant a garden within the playground area, and science and robotics will part of the curriculum.
Stroud, 30, previously served as program manager with the Hillsborough County School District, focusing on community partnerships, nontraditional teaching and at-risk families. She is working on a doctorate in educational leadership at Nova Southeastern University.
"My passion for young people is to educate them," she said. "We're blazing a trail here. The community is getting behind this."
For information, call Brenda Burney at (813) 248-8700 or email Stroud at email@example.com.