Redlands Christian Migrant Academy in WimaumaAs the 2007-08 school year draws to a close at Redlands Christian Migrant Academy in Wimauma (RCMA), the last bell will herald a new beginning for the 175-student Hillsborough County school.

RCMA, a charter school built in 2000, provides educational and cultural opportunities to the children of migrant workers who work the farms of west central Florida. Historically, such children were taken to the fields with their parents during the day, and received little-to-no formal classroom education.

Academy Director Mark Haggett, who came to RCMA in 2001 as a math and science teacher, has seen the burgeoning school through many changes, but expects the coming expansion to be something particularly special.

In April, RCMA celebrated Earth Day by launching its capital campaign to raise money for a new 9,300-square-foot “green” building that will allow the academy to expand to include grades six through eight; the school presently enrolls students in pre-school through the fifth grade. Director Haggett explained that the additional length of time students stay in the academy will “strongly impact their educational future.”

This is why the building project – estimated to cost $1.6 million – is vitally important to the school. “Our new building will allow our students to stay in the academy through the vital middle school years,” said Haggett. To date, the academy has raised $265,000 toward the project. If an additional $35,000 is raised, RCMA will be eligible to receive a $1 million grant, which hopefully will allow for building completion in the 2009/2010 school year.

RCMA teaches its 175 students in 10 classes with 14 employees, most whom are bilingual, including a music teacher, an art teacher and a physical education instructor. Many classes also have a teacher’s assistant, with the student-to-teacher ratio averaging 18:1.

Director Haggett speaks proudly of his staff, boasting that many of them have been with the school from its inception.

“We come from all walks of life, and bring all our lives’ experiences with us,” he said.  He said that, although many of the students’ parents cannot speak English, there is an overwhelmingly strong parental involvement at the school, and noted that the pre-school students typically cannot speak English, but become fully bilingual by first grade.

Heather Hanson, the charter school’s program specialist, said, “The parents have a comfort level here because we communicate with the parents in Spanish and keep them involved in their child’s education process.”

The children at RCMA not only receive an education unavailable to their older siblings and older migrant children, but they are also exposed to art, music and sports.  The students participate in cultural music programs and instrumental lessons, art projects as well as learning the techniques associated with golf and tennis.

Although the academy is just 8 years old, it already lays claim to many success stories of former students. One such graduate is now a freshman in college studying journalism; other alumni are now in high school and dually enrolled in college programs.

Nearly all the money for the new building project has been raised through private donations, church groups and donations from local businesses (RCMA Wimauma Academy is a registered not-for-profit organization, making all donations tax deductible).

Any organization or individual who wants information on how to assist RCMA Wimauma Academy in its “green” fundraising may call the school at 672-5159 or contact the school Website at

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Kelly Wise Valdes has been writing for the Osprey Observer since 2008. She graduated in 1989 from Florida Southern College with a B.S. in Communications and enjoys writing and traveling. She currently resides in northern Hillsborough County with her husband, David. When not traveling and writing, Kelly and her husband enjoy spending time with their five grown children (as well as their grandchildren) that still keep them very busy.