Hidden behind a booming car-dealership and a cluster of small businesses on South Dixie Highway and SW 166th Street lies a tiny mixed-middle and high school.
Palmetto Bay Academy takes its course in what looks like a shopping plaza on the outside, yet a comfy home on the inside.
“Students are looking for the flexibility of a home school but they want the environment of a school,” said PBA Director Maggie Eubanks. She and her husband John were recently appointed to be the school’s new directors in August. “They want that connection with their teachers.”
The private school aims at providing attention to students who are not reaching their full potential in traditional public or private schools, all within a comfortable setting. About two dozen students are currently enrolled, which is more than double of what it was in 2009.
“More and more educators are starting to realize that one system is not always the answer,” Eubanks said, noting that classes have no more than seven students per teacher. “Sometimes smaller is better. It’s not that the traditional system doesn’t work, it can, but it doesn’t work for every child.”
PBA’s “flipped classroom model” tailors each student’s curriculum to their personal level because not all students learn the same way. Many students who have suffered from bullying and anxiety benefit from the one-on-one learning, Eubanks said, noting that a high percentage of enrolled students have struggled with such challenges.
Senior Alec Ruiz, 18, was one of them.
“It was rough; I was bullied,” Ruiz said. “When I first got here, I was like am I gonna fit in? Am I not? I was really struggling with the whole idea of acceptance. Gradually, I overcame that. Before this school, I always used to be a group hopper. I was never was able to fit into one group. Now it’s different. I have people coming to me. I’ve made really good friends here; people that I can rely on. The teachers are great; they look at both your personality and where you’re at academically, and try to set goals.”
The school prides itself on other unorthodox methods such as no timed testing or lectured teaching. They have 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes. And parents receive weekly progress reports so they can be involved in their children’s education.
Classes are mixed to include students with different skills and at different grade levels. Students can study different subjects in one classroom. This eliminates boredom for more gifted students and anxiety and insecurity from those students who need extra time to learn a subject.
The school, located at 16637 S. Dixie Hwy, was founded in 2000 when four families approached a former Palmer Trinity teacher to “support their kids in basically a home school environment,” Eubanks said. That’s when Lois and James Dimos founded PBA in their home with four students.
Today, tuition rounds up to about $23,000 a year. All levels of instruction are available, from remedial, honors and advanced placement. Teachers combine resources like online classes with live activities, field trips and extracurriculars.
You do not have to be a Palmetto Bay resident to enroll.
Before being appointed to lead the school late last year, the Maggie and John Eubanks had spent the last five years in Asia, where they both took leadership roles at schools in Northern China and Jakarta, Indonesia.
Maggie Eubanks said she knows their global experience will be an asset to students.
“Having been in so many different educational systems allowed us to see that there are many pathways to success,” she said. “Being in these different countries, seeing these different systems — both public schools and private schools — it’s just given us the opportunity to see a bigger picture for learning. The fact that it just doesn’t have to be the traditional model, that you can basically produce amazingly capable, self-assured happy, graduates, who happen to follow a non-traditional model.”
The school is accredited by AERO, the Alternative Education Resource Organization. Students receive a standard high school diploma and are prepared for college. All of the school’s graduates — more than 100 students to date — have gone on to college.