A few months ago I had the opportunity to take a tour of our Chamber member Achievement Academy on their Winter Haven Campus. As I sat in the lobby waiting for Executive Director John Burton to greet me, numerous students walked passed with their teachers. Each with an enormous smile and a friendly "Hello!" It was readily apparent - these kids love this school. These kids feel loved at this school.
As the tour continued we watched a one-on-one tutoring session between a student and a therapist reviewing the alphabet flash cards with great enthusiasm. Then to a classroom where the students were working on a creative activity where the teacher got just a moment to chat with us before several proud students wanted to share their creations.
The Achievement Academy is a charter school and a United Way agency that serves children from birth through age five with various developmental delays and disabilities, including but not limited to, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and speech delays. The Achievement Academy offers small class sizes, dedicated staff, developmentally appropriate goals, individual speech, occupational and physical therapies and assistive technologies that allow our students to blossom.
Read more on their 60th anniversary in the official press release below.
Achievement Academy is celebrating 60 Years of serving children with special needs in our community. It all began in 1955 with a group of parents who had a dream -- a place in Polk County that provided education, therapies and services for their children with cerebral palsy. Remember, it wasn’t until 1974 that federal law mandated a free, appropriate public education to all children, regardless of disability.
The school opened in Lakeland in 1956 as United Cerebral Palsy serving both children and young adults. Many hours of volunteer work were required to keep the Center operating with the Junior Welfare League providing a full-time volunteer. The main building at the Lakeland campus was completed in 1967, and a poolside addition completed in 1975.
As more children with other developmental delays and disabilities were welcomed, the organization disaffiliated with United Cerebral Palsy and became Child Development Center of Polk County, Inc. (CDC) in 1987. As the need for services and space continued to grow, the pool was filled in and the two buildings joined in 1989.
In 1997, the Child Development Center’s application to become a Charter School was approved and in 2004 the name was changed to Achievement Academy. The Lakeland Campus expanded again in 2013, adding 5 new classrooms, and 3 new therapy rooms.
Meanwhile, a satellite classroom was opened in Winter Haven in the early 1980s using donated space. A permanent home was finally established in 1999 when a building was purchased, thanks to a generous donation from Bill and Gloria McIntee. Classes began at the McIntee Center later that same year.
In 1984, a satellite classroom was opened in Bartow, also using donated space in area churches. Again, thanks to a generous donation by Mrs. W. F. Peacock, who donated her late husband’s medical building, classes began in Bartow’s newly renovated Peacock Center in 1993.
Today Achievement Academy Charter School serves 157 students at its three campuses in Lakeland, Bartow and Winter Haven. In addition to the Charter School, Achievement Academy has served thousands of children and families in their homes since 1997 through our early intervention program. Thanks to United Way, the program continues today, serving hundreds of children and families each year, as the Birth To Three Program.
The Achievement Academy employs teachers, therapists, early interventionists and staff who have passionately served the students and families these past 60 years. Many current staff have dedicated over 10 years ~ but all willingly and joyfully carry the dream that the original group of parents had some 60 years ago. It is with gratitude and appreciation that we recognize retired Executive Director, Paula Sullivan, and former teacher, now Principal, Cindi Parker-Pearson, who have been instrumental in communicating the vision and implementing the dream over the last 30 years. For them, it has always been “all about the children,” and that message continues to be shared.
For more information, please contact Stacy Williams, Development Director at 863-683-6504 x. 136 or visit our website at www.achievementacademy.com.