ASPIRA Acad­emy com­pletes ex­pan­sion

Char­ter school un­veils ren­o­vated build­ing

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IAN­NETTA jian­netta@ches­pub.com

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.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

ASPIRA Acad­emy re­cently com­pleted an ex­pan­sion and ren­o­va­tion pro­ject that saw the out­side of the school get a facelift.

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