By GEOFF FOX
A three-classroom school tucked inside a church in south St. Petersburg, Florida, is proving that a learning institution doesn’t need a sprawling campus to become a beacon for families seeking educational options.
Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental Academy was founded in 2011 by Pastor Robert Ward of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
That first year, there were only three sixth-grade students and one teacher, but it has grown steadily. It now serves sixth- through eighth-graders, and the staff has grown to three full-time teachers, three teacher’s assistants and Principal Shannon Dolly.
Because of our supporters, those students now have hope for a brighter future.
Dolly attributed Mt. Moriah’s growth to word-of-mouth testimonials among parents in the area.
“We also put up a sign out front a couple of years ago,” she said. “That alone has helped us a lot.”
Most students are from the south St. Petersburg area, although some travel from nearby Largo and Pinellas Park.
Dolly is happy that enrollment is increasing and ecstatic with how well her students are performing.
During the 2016-17 school year, the school opted into Step Up’s Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessment. With multiple tests a year, MAP® provides teachers with almost immediate results, allowing them to adjust their instruction to the needs of each student.
Dolly said the program has worked well and that reading scores at Mt.Moriah have significantly increased. Mt. Moriah graduates either attend a public school or transfer to a private high school.
Without our supporters, crucial innovations like MAP would not be possible.
“I work diligently with the eighth-grade parents to get their kids in the right school,” Dolly said. “We make sure they’re on a rigorous academic program. They don’t know it, but they work a grade ahead. When they go to high school, they already have an Algebra 1 or Spanish 1 credit, as long as they pass it here.”
Students like Tahjai Lassiter, 14, have thrived at Mt. Moriah. A student on the tax-credit scholarship program, Tahjai graduated from the school in June as its valedictorian with a 3.8 grade-point average. In 2017-18, she plans to attend Gibbs High School, a local public school, where she will be enrolled in the Beta program.
The Beta program blends business and technological skills into students’ academic courses. The program includes a “real world simulated business class where students use their critical thinking skills and hands-on curriculum to operate a business within the school,” according to the school’s website.
The program should offer plenty of challenges, but they are ones Tahjai has been well-prepared for at Mt. Moriah. In fact, the program should be an especially good fit for her.
“I want to own a couple of businesses locally,” she said of her future aspirations.
Zharia Stephens, 12, a rising eighth-grader, said she is also happy at Mt. Moriah. She is also a tax-credit scholar and previously attended a private elementary school.
Although she said science is her favorite subject, “because it’s easier,” Zharia aspires to someday become an attorney.
“Sometimes I like to argue,” she said.
Dolly nodded in agreement, saying, “She’s a great debater.”
Zharia added that television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” have helped stoke her passion for issues pertaining to crime and punishment.
Asked what she liked most about Mt. Moriah, Zharia didn’t hesitate to mention the staff.
“Because they love me,” she said with a grin.
Without our supporters, Zharia might have been lost in a sea of other students.