The Woodland Community Academy school year did not start as planned.

The school spent the first three weeks sending middle school students on field trips rather than to class because the school’s new middle school building was not completed.

“We just took the kids everywhere,” said Jennifer Passmore, director of Woodland Community Academy. “We had to be flexible this year. Starting out of our building was a huge challenge, but the moment we started we saw it wasn’t working or it was working.

Now, college students and staff are in a furrow in the new 13,500 square foot building that houses the college.

Woodland Community Academy serves children through seventh grade with plans to expand to eighth grade next year.

“It’s awesome,” Passmore said. “It was worth the wait. The classrooms are designed specifically for the needs of middle schoolers. It makes a huge difference for them.”

The Woodland Community Church was planning to groundbreaking in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic hit, which delayed the groundbreaking. The church was able to usher in the $4.6 million expansion in September 2020.

Dewayne McFarlin, executive pastor of Woodland Community Church, and Jennifer Passmore, principal of Woodland Community Academy, are thrilled the college is complete after delays due to the pandemic.

“It was a long process because we had all the civil work we needed to do before we started the actual construction of the building,” said Dewayne McFarlin, executive pastor of Woodland Community Church.

Passmore and McFarlin said there are no plans to add a high school to the campus.

Passmore said the classrooms were rectangular rather than square because “it brings the teacher closer to the students”.

Classrooms feature tables at different heights that allow all students to see the teacher at the front of the class without being blocked by other students.

“The attention is in the eyes,” Passmore said. “Wherever your eyes are, that’s where you focus and pay attention.”

Tables also allow students to work collaboratively. The tables are on wheels so they can be easily moved in groups.

Passmore said Woodland Community Academy’s approach to college differs from other schools in the area.

“We have a strong public education in Manatee County, but even with the best schools, college is tough and one of the things we wanted to do was approach it in a very different way,” Passmore said.

In addition to academics, a priority for the college is to meet the social and spiritual needs of students.

“That’s the question middle schoolers ask, ‘Who am I?'” Passmore said. “Being able to start a school from scratch that would meet those needs, it’s going to be interesting to see how that affects students academically. We have already seen a lot of academic progress. The children work hard. We have few discipline problems. We think a lot of this has to do with spiritual and social needs and ensuring those things are met.

Harlow Griffit and Chloe Rice complete a leadership worksheet during the college advisory period.

To meet these needs, Passmore said the college sets aside 30 minutes a day to hold consultative meetings where students learn about emotional intelligence, their spiritual being, and aspects of social learning.

The school also offers a 20-minute mid-morning break to give students the opportunity to socialize.

Besides the college building, the church also built a park behind the college as well as a small park in front of the school. The park behind the college, which is open to the public, has a disc golf course, exercise equipment, a walking path and more.

The church is also expanding the Woodland Fine Arts Academy, which is a ministry that provides instruction in dance, music, and other fine arts.

The new classes that will be included in the Woodland Fine Arts Academy are Digital Art, Photography, Filmmaking, Editing, Sound and Lighting, and Edible Art. Edible arts are cookie baking, cake decorating, and other aspects of baking and cooking.

“It’s more of a technology-based art form,” Passmore said. “We find that children are much more interested in it. During the pandemic, students were spending more time with their computers. They have developed a greater interest in these forms of digital art. We will have students going in and creating images entirely on the computer and then using electronic music to enhance those features.

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