ASPIRA Academy completes expansion
Charter school unveils renovated building
When Las Américas ASPIRA Academy first opened its doors in 2011, its 300 students shared space with Delaware Sportsplex in a former warehouse on Ruthar Drive, east of Newark.
Now, six years later, the school has 740 students and after completing its second — and final — expansion, the building is likely now unrecognizable to that first group of students.
The charter school has now taken over the sportplex’s space and added a second floor, along with a kitchen, gym, auditorium and outdoor learning space. The building’s facade has
received an upgrade too, wiping away all traces of the former Happy Harry’s warehouse that use to call the property home.
“It definitely still looked like a warehouse from the outside,” Head of School Margie Lopez Waite said. “With this construction project, we were able to go back and transform the whole building.”
But while the building may look different, the school hasn’t deviated from its core mission. ASPIRA operates a dual-language-immersion program, in which students from kindergarten through eighth grade spend one day learning in English and the next day switch to another classroom to learn in Spanish.
The result is that the students, who come from both English and Spanish-dominant households, are fluent or nearly fluent in both languages.
The school also has a preschool open to children 6 months to 4 years old known as the Early Childhood Development Center, which is currently open just to the children of school staff. However, next year the ECDC will be open to the siblings of current students as well. Because the siblings of current students are the only ones that get preferential enrollment, it makes sense to give them an early introduction to the school, Waite said.
Waite doesn’t expect the preschool to ever have more than about 30 kids — any more would require another expansion project — and the school is still getting used to all the new possibilities its latest project has opened up.
“We have space that we never had before,” she said.
One of the biggest changes for students is the addition of a full-service kitchen and a new cafeteria with divided seating so the older students can eat on one side and the younger students on the other. Previously, ASPIRA brought in pre-packaged meals that were then heated up, but that meant students only had one option for breakfast and one for lunch. Now with more options available, the school has seen an increase in the number of students purchasing meals at school, Waite said.
The auditorium is also a welcome addition in a school where about half the students participate in music and the arts, Waite said. In the past, ASPIRA had to rent space in other auditoriums in the Christina School District for events like concerts and school plays. But now, with the finishing touches being put on a 400seat auditorium, all that will take place in-house. Bigger spaces for band, chorus and dance have also been added, Waite said.
The school also has its own gym for the first time after using space in Delaware Sportsplex for its physical education classes for the last six years, Waite said.
Students will also notice changes in the classroom as the majority of the middle school classes have moved to the second floor, where there’s also a lounge area available. In addition, the walls between some classrooms have been replaced with glass panels to allow for easier communication between the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking classes, Waite said.
The final new addition can be seen outside the school, where there’s now an outdoor learning space that was designed by last year’s eighth-grade quest students, ASPIRA’s name for its gifted and talented program. The space was designed by the students with help from a parent who is a landscape designer and funded through a $5,000 Environmental Service Community Award the school received through a partnership between the environmental law firm of Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox, LLP and Wawa.
The outdoor space consists of a labyrinth, a bamboo walkway, a buddy bench and various other features designed to encourage outdoor play, Waite said.
As the students continue to get used to the new space, ASPIRA plans to show off the renovated building to the community during its Hispanic Heritage Day celebration on Sept. 22, which has been a yearly tradition for the school since it opened. But despite the changes, Waite said the heart of the school has always been in its students and its curriculum model, not its facilities.
“I think the fact that the physical exterior has changed is a plus,” she said. “But most of our families came when we were still a warehouse, so they were not attracted to the building, it was something more substantial.”
ASPIRA Academy recently completed an expansion and renovation project that saw the outside of the school get a facelift.